A Single Shot: Sam Rockwell as Troubled Gunman

A Single Shot

Opens Fri., Sept. 20 at Pacific Place. Rated R. 116 minutes.

Sam Rockwell finally got the love he deserves in The Way, Way Back, dominating that slight summer coming-of-age flick with his charming rascalry. He’s played plenty of hicks and nuts (see The Green Mile, Seven Psychopaths), but he seldom gets to play the sympathetic lead. This adaptation of a sparse crime novel gives him that chance. John Moon is broke and unemployed in rural West Virginia; his wife has left him (taking their small son); then he makes a horrible mistake while poaching deer to stock his freezer—shooting an unknown young woman hiding in the forest. In a panic, he returns the body to her makeshift camp, there discovering a box full of cash. (Here let’s state that Matthew F. Jones’ 1996 book came out before A Simple Plan, which shares its windfall-in-the-woods plot.)

Moon hopes to use the cash for a lawyer (William H. Macy) to stave off the divorce threatened by his wife (Kelly Reilly of Flight). Then, having seen his own parents’ farm lost to foreclosure, maybe he can buy a better patch of land. But since Moon is poor and near-friendless, and because his wife is likely better off without him, and with the stolen money’s wrongful owners on his trail, nothing will go according to Moon’s plan. Nor does it help that he’s surrounded by drunks (cue Jeffrey Wright) and violent idiots (hello, Joe Anderson). With no evidence of the law in sight, Macy’s lawyer tells Moon, “There are so many overlapping interests in a small town.” His secret isn’t secret. Threats and violence gather around Moon like flies—so maybe he should make a deal with those interested parties? But Moon is stubborn. “I want my family back,” he insists.

Among the writers who admire Jones is David Woodrell, whose Winter’s Bone shares a certain backwoods, meth-inflected code of justice with this story. Moon keeps trying to repair his great wrong, but there’s no decency behind any door he knocks on for help. Rockwell tamps down his usual buoyancy, sagging palpably with each letdown and betrayal. “I’m tired, real tired,” says Moon, but it also seems the world around him is suffering from moral exhaustion, too. The damp, gray mists fill the forest, where Moon even begins to see ghosts.

A Single Shot never quite gets beyond genre, and the Appalachian mumbling can be hard to follow. Good actors appear for short scenes, then frustratingly disappear. Still, Rockwell holds the piece together with the concentration of a man who knows he’s losing but never quite grasps why he’s losing.


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