*** (out of four)
When John (Sam Rockwell) accidentally shoots and kills a woman in the woods and finds a box of money nearby, there’s no moral choice to be made, only a practical one. He can’t afford not to take it—and obviously hasn’t seen “No Country for Old Men” for a look at the likely consequences.
John’s out of work and thinks maybe the cash influx will help him reunite with his estranged wife (Kelly Reilly of “Flight”) and young son. At one point in “A Single Shot” the boy is babysat by a naked woman and her creepy hookup who declares, “My dick’s a basset hound; I’m just the poor son of a bitch holding its chain.” As if John needed more motivation to put his family back together.
As he should have expected, soon the thief has ruthless goons on his tail who intimidate him in ways not totally dissimilar to “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” Also: Enough of shooting dogs in movies. It’s been done and done again.
What writer Matthew F. Jones’ adaptation of his novel lacks in creativity it makes up for in rugged efficiency and bubbling suspense. Watching this what-would-you-do tale unfurl in this cold West Virginia community, you can practically feel the chill on your neck. Rockwell’s excellent in a part that requires him to emote subtly and let his priorities and principles fight inside his head, much like a lawyer’s (William H. Macy) statement that there are many overlapping interests in a small town.
Though not as unsettling or lived-in as “Winter’s Bone,” “A Single Shot” lands somewhere between a good novel and a deadly country song, all with the power to take hold and refuse to leave you be.
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