Sam Rockwell may not be a household name yet, but he has consistently delivered superb performances that have steadily earned respect from a growing number of filmgoers. Hiding under a beard, hunting cap, and West Virginian accent, even his fans may not recognize him as the actor from Moon, Choke, Cowboys & Aliens, or Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. Coming off the heels of the acclaimed summer sleeper, The Way Way Back, Rockwell has proven himself once again as a versatile and audacious actor who will hopefully continue to gain recognition.

Here, Rockwell plays John Moon, a lonely, unemployed outdoorsman living in the West Virginian backwoods. On a misty morning, we see John leaving his desolate trailer and preparing for a hunt. We can tell he is an experienced shooter in these ominous woods (although a sign indicates he is in a prohibited hunting zone). John soon finds his prey, and tracks down a deer. To his stunned horror, he finds he has accidently shot a young woman. While taking her away from the scene of the crime and returning her to her makeshift shelter in the woods, he discovers a box full of money.

For John, this could be just the thing to change his life around. He is estranged from his wife (Kelly Reilly, Flight, Sherlock Holmes), a waitress who is the primary caregiver of their baby. While she pushes for a divorce, John is still in love with her and wants to reunite the family. It is not that John is a total deadbeat, but he’s not particularly ambitious either. A former farmer, he has been struggling since the family farm went into foreclosure and bought by a neighbor, played by the always-welcome Ted Levine (Monk, Silence of the Lambs). Despite the shock and sorrow from the fatal shot, John takes the money in desperation. However, the ways in which it changes his life are more than he bargained for.


A Single Shot is directed by David M. Rosenthal (Janie Jones) and written by Matthew F. Jones, who adapted it from his own 1996 novel. Although a bit slowly-paced, A Single Shot is a highly atmospheric and suspenseful movie,  having more to offer than a simple action film. It simmers its tension like a horror film, and induces plenty of nail biting moments. The aesthetics draw the viewer in and have a nightmarish quality — somewhat beautiful but terrifying at the same time. Instead of a place of serenity, the woods are dark, wild, and haunting. John’s isolation and increasing desperation are palpable.

The film also features a stable of terrific actors. William H. Macy (Fargo, Magnolia), wearing a crude hairpiece, a gimp, and a 1970’s looking suit, plays the lawyer John hires to intercede in the divorce. Jason Isaacs (The Patriot and Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter series) is a mysterious stranger, and Jeffrey Wright (Casino RoyaleExtremely Loud & Incredibly Close) plays John’s stumbling-drunk friend. Usually seen in more elegant roles, it is fun watching these actors as backwoods’ folk. However, along with the scuzzy Obadiah (Joe Anderson, Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn Part 2The Grey) these aren’t the chipper, lovable hicks you might see in an episode of Duck Dynasty. Almost everyone emanates a creepy menace.

Rockwell in particular saves this film and makes it worth a watch. He wisely avoids a hillbilly caricature and gives John Moon layers of complexity. Though not a flashy-splashy type role that gains instant Oscar notice, the quiet and intense performance is riveting nonetheless.

Recommended if you like: Sam Rockwell, Psycho, Fargo, Winter’s Bone, or introverted thrillers like Black Swan.