“A Single Shot” aims to serve up gritty backwoods noir but misses its target by some distance. Although this yarn about the violent repercussions triggered by an accidental shooting boasts a strong cast on paper, including Sam Rockwell, Jeffrey Wright and William H. Macy, it’s marred by cliches bred in its wintry bones by Matthew F. Jones’ adaptation of his own novel, not helped by hackneyed helming from David S. Rosenthal (“Janie Jones”). Basically genre pulp with so-so moments, “Shot” should see some action in ancillary but has limited theatrical prospects and looks out of place on the fest circuit.
Although it was lensed in the mountains near Vancouver, the film is unclearly about where it’s supposed to be set; the redneck accents suggest somewhere vaguely Southern. Not exactly rocking a scruffy mountain-man beard and a thousand-yard stare, Rockwell stars as John Moon, whose family literally lost the farm some time ago. Hard times have taken their toll on his marriage to pretty but sketchily drawn waitress Jess (Kelly Reilly, the first of many Brits in the cast here showing off hours spent with a dialect coach), whose taken their toddler son to live in town, leaving Moon alone in a dilapidated trailer up in the woods.
While out illicitly hunting deer one day, Moon accidentally shoots and kills a young woman (Christie Burke), apparently a runaway, with the titular single shot. Presumably worried that the circumstances will land him in jail after a string of citations for poaching, Moon chooses to hide the body rather than notify the authorities, especially when he finds a big ole box of cash hidden at the girl’s campsite.
Clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer, Moon draws attention to himself when he starts spreading his new wealth around town, first with a slimy local lawyer (Macy, hamming it up with a comic toupee and false teeth) whom he retains to handle his divorce, and then later when he tries to drop off a wad of cash for Jess. There he meets skeevy ex-con Obadiah (Joe Anderson), shagging the babysitter (Amy Sloan) while Moon’s son sleeps, and the ominously hirsute Waylon (Jason Isaacs), who will prove to be the major nemesis later on.
At times, the film does a reasonably good job of evoking the claustrophobia of recession-hit rural communities, where everyone knows everyone else’s business and prospects are limited to back-breaking farm work, service-industry labor and crime. But Rosenthal seems more interested in auditioning for future employment on TV procedurals than in exploring sociology, and attempts to establish atmosphere via heavy-handed use of misty landscapes and creepy noises. Indeed, it’s never hard to tell when something bad is about to happen, given the frequency with which Atli Orvarsson’s score cranks up the discordant string section of doom.
Unfortunately, the film is notably lacking in suspense, partly due to a lopsided script that suddenly has to cram in a bunch of explication via a dreadful monologue delivered by Wright, overacting painfully as Moon’s booze-soaked best bud. Elsewhere, there are characters mentioned but never met, and weakly defined relationships that suggest a lot of script tinkering or cutting-room triage happened along the way. The uneven performances from such a potentially strong cast may be the result of what was reportedly a long and troubled pre-production phase (thesps previously attached to the project include Melissa Leo, Juliette Lewis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Forest Whitaker). British actress Ophelia Lovibond at least perks things up as a hapless good girl caught in the crossfire.
Even lenser Eduard Grau, who won plaudits for his eye-catching visuals on “A Single Man,” brings his B-game here with a palette of grays and sludge tones that looked overly dingy at the digital screening reviewed.