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January 29, 2016

Movie Review: "Beyond the Reach"

I just watched this because Literally Nothing Is Ever On TV. It's a low-budget movie from 2014 by an Italian, or French, director.

It stars Michael Douglas playing an arrogant, rich corporate douchebag. Real stretch for him. He's a big game hunter, or maybe just a big game shooter, as he has lots of expensive equipment -- a $500,000 six-wheel Humvee complete with espresso maker (!), a futuristic looking Steyr rifle -- but does not have a great deal of wilderness skills. He mostly just pays guides to get him close to big trophy animal so he can shoot it.

He pays a guide, played by a guy named Jeremy Irving, I think, to get him close to bighorn sheep in the Mojave Desert. He bribes the guy to overlook the fact that he doesn't have a permit to hunt the protected animals.

The problem comes when Douglas sees a shadow on a ridgeline and fires at it... without confirming the shadow was a bighorn sheep.

In fact, it was a human being, and he nailed him in the heart. He's dead as the desert.

At this point, Douglas attempts to further bribe the guide, but the guide isn't helping covering up a killing, even if it was an accident.

So Michael Douglas begins Plan B: He forces the guide to strip to his underwear, at gun point, and marches him through the merciless sun and 120 degree heat of the Mojave. His plan is that the guide will die a natural-appearing death, and he'll claim that the guide shot the man, then ran out into the desert in despair and eventually died of exposure, sunstroke, and thirst. With no witness to contradict him, he'll get away with it.

It's a lower-budget movie, as there are just two actors, pretty much (some brief appearances by others), and much of the time, the camera is only on one of them.

The other actor is the Mojave Desert, which puts in a damn fine performance.

After all the noise of the Marvel films, I enjoyed this quiet, taut, simple drama of one man trying to kill another man, and another man trying to survive. There's little dialogue between them, even, as there really isn't much to say past the opening: Michael Douglas just wants this guy dead. Not really a lot to discuss.

It's on demand on Starz.

Here are my ratings:

Minus 1/2 Star for No Rattlesnake Fu. Come on, a desert survival movie, and no rattlesnake? Have the guy wake up from sleeping and discover a rattlesnake has snuggled up next to him for warmth.

No wildlife at all, really -- not even the bighorn sheep. Not even the sounds of their horns clashing against each other in the distance.

Lots of sand, stone, and sun, though.


Plus/Minus 0 Stars for No Real Survivalcraft. I have to tell you upfront that while you might think the premise means you'll be getting survival tactics in this movie, you don't. You don't get any of it.

There are a couple of reasons, I think. First, it's hard to stage. To introduce some cool surivalcraft fun-facts, you'd have to have the guide explaining why he was going to his shadowed catch-basin hoping for some water, and that means he'd have to have someone to talk to, like a friend he's explaining things to.

Well, he doesn't. The whole point of this movie is a mano-a-mano duel in perfect isolation from mankind.

Alternately, you could have a voice-over, but that wouldn't work at all: The whole tone of this movie is supposed to be taught, panicky survival, and if you have the guy narrating coolly -- assumedly later, after he's already survived and extracted himself from the situation -- would demolish the tension.

I thought maybe he could steal a pocket recorder, in order to get the facts of the killing on tape in case of his death, and then he could say into that recorder "I'm going to this ridge of rocks, because the base of the rocks are in shadow so there might be unevapoarted water there," or whatever.

But even that really wouldn't work, because what they're going for is the idea that this guy is just in a terrible situation, and is just scrambling for his life, and if he is sitting there reading out these clever, highly-skilled strategems, it makes him seem more competent and on top of things than the movie wants him to be

So I give this neither a deduction nor a plus -- It's a choice the movie made, and a defensible one. But I feel like I have to point it out, because the first thing anyone would think (as I thought) was "Wow, cool, now we're going to see some neat survivalcraft."

Plus 1/2 Star for No Schlongs. Even though Douglas strips the guy, he lets him keep his jockey shorts, so we don't see any schlong bouncing around. And if that sounds bad to you womenfolk -- we also don't see sun-blistered schlong, which wouldn't be too cool.

Minus 1/2 Star for Suboptimal Climax. I think this sort of movie has to end in the classic way. I think at some point, the victim has to gain the upper hand, then turn the tables -- if only partially -- so that now the hunter becomes the hunted.

You want the villain not just to be defeated, but to know he's been defeated, and to understand the moral reasons for his defeat -- his hubris, his belief that he was a master of the situation, his arrogance that he was so much more capable than his would-be victim he could afford to get cute.

You want the villain, in other words, to know what a Total Asshole he was before he gets his.

So what I was expecting was a turning of the tables, and, say, 10-15 minutes of the guide now hunting Douglas.

I didn't get that. The climax is decent -- it's not bad -- but it happens pretty abruptly. It didn't really feel to me as if it built to that climax, that the movie was signaling "This is it, this is the end." The end just came.

Also, not to give away spoilers, but the Mojave Desert is a co-star in the movie. The climax should happen there -- all of it. I don't think this movie ever should have left the desert. The desert was just to intrinsic to the whole set up.

It would be like ending Die Hard in someplace other than the Nakatomi Tower.

Overall, I liked this movie, so I'll add up those pluses and minuses and still give it three stars. It's a very simple, very straightforward thriller with good scenery.

I like when filmmakers have the confidence that they don't have to make everything loud and fast moving and filled with CGI.

And I always say this: If, being a dramatist, you don't think that the situation of one man trying to kill another is inherently full of dramatic potential, and that you need to lard that scenario up with special effects and Funny Wisecracks and constant thumping Action Music, you need to get out of the business.

One man trying to murder another is not the highest form of drama, but it is certainly sufficient for a good drama. These filmmakers know that, and they don't try to gild the lily.

If you liked Tuco tortuing Blondie in the desert in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, and thought, 'Wow! They should make a whole movie just out of that!," well, this is for you.

Just an unexpectedly competent movie I'd never before heard of and had no expectations of. Three stars might be generous, but I guess I kind of like that they just didn't have a whole lot of mistakes and misfires in the movie.

PS: Yes, it's based on the Young Adult novel "Deathwatch."

I would have mentioned that originally, but I had no idea anyone else had ever heard of the novel, so I didn't see the point of noting it. But commetners immediately said "Sounds like Deathwatch," so yeah, it is that.

Oh, and it's apparently a remake of the 1974 film "Savages," where Andy Griffith played the hunter. I had no idea this book was so well known (or dated back so far).

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posted by Ace at 05:25 PM

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