Movie Review: “Beyond the Reach”
Just when one might notice that it’s been a while since we’d last seen a riff on The Most Dangerous Game, here comes Beyond the Reach. Based on a pulp thriller novel from the ’70s, this film is appropriately spartan in its construction. It’s a two-man show between Michael Douglas and Jeremy Irvine, one a hunter, the other the hunted. That’s a premise as stripped down as Irvine is throughout most of the movie, running about in nothing but underwear and a watch. A mainstream film hasn’t objectified the male body this much since Magic Mike. Of course, the deadly cat-and-mouse game between Irvine and Douglas doesn’t help the studio pitch it to female audiences nearly as well.
Irvine plays Ben, a young tracker and guide who stayed in his tiny Mojave Desert town rather than follow his girlfriend to college. He comes to regret this even more than he already did after he leads wealthy insurance man Madec (Douglas) into the Desert on a hunt for bighorn sheep. Things go horribly wrong after Madec accidentally kills a local kook — when his attempt to bribe Ben into covering it up fails, he forces Ben at gunpoint to strip and then traipse into the Desert to die.
Beyond the Reach runs a lean 84 minutes, rushing through its setup to get to the hunt as quickly as possible. The conflict is simple but juicy: There’s Ben, armed with nothing but his wits and his knowledge of the area, versus Madec, an accomplished marksman who possesses all the newest high-tech equipment, such as a giant truck and a ridiculously powerful rifle. Their game distills the movie’s simple but effective class consciousness. The rich have always preyed on the poor; here, that’s just a good deal more literal. It’s a shame that Ben is mainly saved by objects left around the rocks and buttes by the man Madec killed. It would have increased the tension to force him to rely more on his own ingenuity. For instance, he finds a slingshot at one point, and the story easily could have set up circumstances in which he could construct one for himself.
The Mojave wilderness is both beautiful and terrifying here, though the movie falls into repetitive flourishes when it comes to establishing just how hot it is out there. Interestingly, the best work the film has when it comes to establishing the passage of time comes from the makeup department, which convincingly creates a horrible degradation in Irvine’s skin as the sun continually tortures it. He goes from burned to tanned to boiling to charred, a great visualization of his declining well-being.
Irvine only needs to look pretty, look desperate, or maintain a convincing American accent, sometimes simultaneously. He falters on all three fronts at various times, but Douglas is the draw here. He’s Gordon Gekko on the prowl and ascended to cackling supervillainy. In one scene, he makes a martini (his supertruck can make martinis) while jovially watching Ben scramble from afar. He knows how to modulate Madec’s ridiculousness, though when he goes big, it’s pretty wonderful. He helps the film chug along through it’s roughest parts, though not even he can save the ending, which is a drawn-out, disappointing anticlimax. Still, Beyond the Reach is a decently fun romp through the desert.
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