Beyond the Reach (2014)
★★★★ / ★★★★
While out hunting in the Mojave Desert, Madec (Michael Douglas), a corporate shark in the process of closing down a multimillion-dollar deal, shoots a man accidentally. Ben (Jeremy Irvine), Madec’s hunting guide, insists that they return the corpse to town as soon as possible. However, his client has another idea: Shoot the dead man—this time with Ben’s rifle—to make the death look like a murder. After all, one cannot shoot a man twice accidentally. Although offered a great life in exchange for his silence, Ben opts to do the right thing—which gets him in very big trouble with the man who has everything except a conscience.
Minimalist down to its marrow, director Jean-Baptiste Léonetti’s “Beyond the Reach” may be unbelievable at times but it is without a doubt entertaining, suspenseful, and thrilling. It could have been boring—after all, it is about a person waiting for another to die under the desert sun—but it knows exactly when and how to change gears in order to make us care about what is about to happen. The film is not for everyone because it requires a bit of patience and a whole lot of appreciation for the little things.
The protagonist is smart, resourceful, and charismatic. But so is the villain—and with a dash of crazy. This makes them equal and it is quite compelling to watch them move the chess pieces across the desert-dry yellow board. Furthermore, the two characters are interesting because they have opposite personalities. More interesting is how the screenplay allow them to dance from the moment the fatal bullet hits the unsuspecting man from a distance.
Irvine plays Ben as quiet, mysterious, maybe a bit sad for having been left behind—first by his family and then recently by his girlfriend (Hanna Mangan Lawrence). And yet there is an indomitable fighter inside him—Irvine’s signature and the reason why, in my opinion, he is one of the best young performers currently working today. On the other hand, Douglas plays Madec as supremely confident, with a powerful presence despite his age, and someone who oozes privilege. Madec is the kind of antagonist who plays classical music and drinks cocktail while watching someone suffer under the scorching sun through his binoculars. It is interesting to see the two duking it out in one of the harshest places on the planet.
I enjoyed how the camera is unafraid to show the repercussions of being out in the sun for too long. It begins with a simple sunburn and as the picture goes on, blisters begin to appear, the soles of one’s feet start to tear off, sweat and grime makes Ben more animalistic—internally and externally—desperate for food, water, and safety. The protagonist knows when to take advantage of a situation but is constantly prevented from getting the upper-hand. This pattern is very necessary to support the material’s understated message: The rich tends to always be a step ahead of those who have less simply because they have means.
Based on the novel “Deathwatch” by Robb White and screenplay by Stephen Susco, “Beyond the Reach” could have been a home run if it were not for its final five minutes. The last shot, I think, should have left the viewer wondering instead of giving out the answer once the screen fades to black. The story is a morality play after all. Nevertheless, I admired the picture for its willingness to experiment.