A Single Shot keeps the drama simple and the inevitable close by

If the movies have taught us anything, it's this: Don't expect an easy time of hanging on to satchels of cash you find in the woods. David M. Rosenthal's A Single Shot — a sturdy, nasty rural noir based on Matthew F. Jones's novel of the same name — is so sharp and rusted through that after taking it in, you're likely to need a tetanus shot. After he accidentally shoots and kills a woman while hunting in the forest near his trailer home, abandoned family man John Moon (Sam Rockwell) happens upon a gun, a note, and a retirement fund's worth of stacked C-notes. Complications ensue, of course, especially after John sends some cash to the wife who wants nothing to do with him anymore. (She's played by Kelly Reilly, who is given little to work with.) He gets phone threats; his friends, mostly bearded roughnecks, behave like maybe they know something; and the score, Atli Örvarsson's, is all disintegrating strings — clearly, this will get ugly. It does, suspensefully, the film grim, well-executed and appealingly humble in its ambitions. The drama is mostly simple — elemental, even — and the inevitable rolls in like a storm. As one of those pals who may be scheming against John, Jeffrey Wright chews into plum monologues about guys "bleeding like Jesus stuck on the cross," his voice grinding like the gear box of a '68 Impala. There's no real reason to root for John save Rockwell's compelling, strong-man-scared performance, and maybe the fact that he's the least cruel and dumb of the men we meet. A caveat for all these grim pleasures: The women here are strictly to be pined for, ogled, or murdered to make a point.


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