For the farmless farmer in "A Single Shot," luck has already taken a nose dive when a fatal error sets off a chain of bad decisions. A neo-noir in the tradition of "Blood Simple" and "A Simple Plan," the film charts no new territory but is terrifically cast and, like its source novel, long on atmosphere. In a penetrating performance of few words — the gripping first quarter-hour is essentially free of dialogue — Sam Rockwell is a figure of contained panic as John Moon, whose waking nightmare is as poetic-prosaic as his name.
The dark plunge begins when John, a decent man as grounded in the physical world as he is unwilling to accept certain realities, accidentally kills a young woman while tracking a deer. Given his arrest record for poaching, and his desperation to set his life right and win back his wife (Kelly Reilly) and son, he hides the body and takes the cache of cash he finds at the dead girl's campsite. From there, naturally, things can only get worse.
Working from Matthew F. Jones' adaptation of his own novel, director David M. Rosenthal creates a visceral experience, favoring mood over plot clarity. He paints a vivid, unsentimental picture of rural poverty, using verdant Vancouver locations and Atli Orvarsson's strong score to convey desolation and dread.
An assortment of sordid characters, well played by William H. Macy, Jason Isaacs, Joe Anderson and Amy Sloan, close in on John in the unspecified Southern setting, a switch from the book's upstate New York. Making the most of the country-drawl default, Jeffrey Wright turns a hopeless drunkard's midnight confession into a haunting dirge.
"A Single Shot"
MPAA Rating: R for some strong violence, sexual content, nudity, language and brief drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes
Playing: Laemmle's Noho 7, North Hollywood. Also on VODCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times