Fate works in unpredictable ways; movies, reliant on formula, less so. A largely untapped subgenre, the rustic noir has inspired a few films over the past few years, all adaptations of novels, from “A Simple Plan” (1998) to “No Country for Old Men” (2007) to “Winter’s Bone” (2010). Will tin shacks, forgotten hamlets, failed farms, and trailer parks replace Boston’s blue collar neighborhoods as the demimonde du jour? Not if “A Single Shot,” adapted by David M. Rosenthal from Matthew F. Jones’s novel, is any indication. So heavy on atmosphere that it’s hard to breathe, this derivative drama sleepwalks through familiar story lines despite the efforts of a first-rate cast.
Part of the problem is that all the densely accented and unwashed characters talk as if they’re undergoing oral surgery, and they look like they smell. John Moon (Sam Rockwell), for example, a shack-dwelling loner living off deer poached from a nearby game reserve, could use a good scrubbing. Hygiene may have played a part in his wife’s (Kelly Reilly) decision to split with the kid. His real problems, however, begin when he shoots at a doe and kills a girl, an apparent runaway but with a box containing $100,000. Moon, who has obviously not seen any of the movies mentioned above, hides the body and takes the cash.
He doesn’t even have booze to blame, unlike his fetid friend Simon (Jeffrey Wright), who blubbers that when he gets drunk, unreasonable things look reasonable. Overcooked as Wright’s character is, he’s got nothing on William H. Macy’s lawyer, Pitt. The guy has a checked suit, a patterned tie, a limp, and prolix dialogue, so does he really need a toupee? Compared to those two, the bad guys — Waylon (Jason Isaacs), with his Vlad the Impaler mustache, and Obadiah (Joe Anderson), who looks like road kill from “Breaking Bad” — seem positively genteel.
In lieu of suspense, Rosenthal relies on a mood of free-floating anxiety, enhanced by West Virginia (actually British Columbia) landscapes where the sun never shines. As one-note as the title suggests, “A Single Shot” misfires.