Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars
A Single Shot begins with West Virginian hunter John Moon (Sam Rockwell) accidentally shooting a woman dead while hunting deer. As if this weren’t enough cause for alarm, John discovers both a hand gun and a suspicious stash of cash in her makeshift camp. Moon hides the body and takes the money. Never the best plan. What follows is a tense backwoods cat and mouse game held together by a strong lead in a terrifying setting.
Moon, it turns out, has already been in trouble with the law as a poacher and sees the money as a means to get back his estranged wife (Kelly Reilly) and son. It doesn’t forgive Moon for his actions but reveals him as a desperate fool for thinking his plan has any chance of succeeding. He’s not unfamiliar with breaking the law, but not on the scale of the men whose threats start with phone calls and escalate. Rockwell does an amazing job at taking John through all the levels of fear. Whether he’s trying to remain calm as his phone rings in the presence of an old friend (Jeffrey Wright) or outright challenging unseen attackers in the woods, you can really feel the panic of a man realizing he’s in way over his head. The forrest surroundings John was so familiar with at the start of the film suddenly turn on him and it seems as though violence can, and in fact does, break out anywhere around him. Often shockingly so. The woods are beautifully shot in all their ominous foggy glory by Eduard Grau, and manage to seem expansive and claustrophobic at the same time.
The strong ensemble cast is perhaps too large to be sustained by a film whose focus must remain solidly on Moon’s dilemma. For example, as Waylon, the thug behind the money, Jason Isaacs isn’t given as much screen time as you would like considering he’s supposed to be the big bad of the movie. Consequently he is out-menaced early on by lackey Obadiah (a magnetic, psycho Joe Anderson) and Moon’s divorce lawyer played by William H. Macy (wearing a crime against toupees). Similarly, Moon and his wife’s relationship could have been strengthened to get at the heart of Moon more than the flirtations we wind up seeing with his neighbor’s daughter. Ultimately though this is Rockwell’s movie and there’s no doubt he’s an expert at isolation. His Moon is reason enough to wander into these woods.