After suffering through trash like You Got Served, I was pretty excited to pop in Carl Franklin’s One False Move.
Not only is this gritty crime drama a radical departure from anything I’ve looked at so far, but the behind-the-scenes details relating to its production and release is a real heartwarming underdog story that will reaffirm your faith in the power of independent filmmaking.
Shot on a shoe-string budget of $2.3 million and helmed by a then amateur director, One False Move was originally set to go straight-to-video. However, strong word of mouth from critics helped it get a limited theatrical release and strong circulation on that year’s awards circuit.
Legendary film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were some of the film’s biggest cheerleaders throughout this whole process, with the latter praising Franklin’s “powerful” directing and the “extraordinary” screenplay from star Billy Bob Thornton and his writing partner Tom Epperson.
Siskel and Ebert would even go on to name One False Move their first and second favourite movie of 1992, respectively. To put that in perspective, next year both critics would give their number one spot to Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.
I mention all of this inside baseball malarkey up front because, unfortunately, it’s a lot more compelling than the actual film itself.
Now don’t get me wrong, One False Move isn’t a bad movie. In fact, there are quite a few things to like about it (especially given its humble roots). But nothing about this film really grabbed me on a visceral level.
And I hate to sound like a smug contrarian, but I couldn’t help but feel that I was watching a standard episode of a 90s cop show stretched out to two hours (albeit with a little more hardcore violence and profanity).
Part of my problem has to do with how the film is structured, since the runtime is divvied up into two parallel plotlines.
One story features a trio of criminals (Billy Bob Thornton, Cynda Williams and Michael Beach) who are on the run from the law after committing a horrific drug robbery in Los Angeles that resulted in multiple homicides.
The second story follows the two detectives (Jim Metzler, Earl Billings) tasked with tracking down these outlaws, who are eventually drawn to one of the suspect’s old stomping grounds in Star City, Arkansas. There, they team up with a local police chief (Bill Paxton), whose boy-scout attitude clashes with big city cops’ approach to law enforcement.
Now, taken as two separate stories, both plots feature plenty of tension, snappy dialog and nuanced performances from the entire cast.
Special mention goes out to Michael Beach, who plays the quiet psychopath “Pluto” with a complex level of menace that really got under my skin.
However, much of the film’s dramatic impact is supposed to come from the interaction between the cops and the criminals and the two groups barely spend any screen time together.
This is especially true for Bill Paxton’s police chief, whose shared history with one of the criminals is a key part of the movie, since it gradually peels away his benevolent façade and reveals a more sinister side of his personality.
Sounds interesting, right? Well, to bad, because this element is only squeezed into the last 20 minutes, which doesn’t give it any room to breathe.
These shortcoming aren’t helped by flat direction, poor editing in spots and a dated score which relies heavily on harmonicas and what I like to call “90s sax.”
Some might view this criticism as a little harsh, especially considering that One False Move marks Carl Franklin’s first big film project after spending most of his career acting on TV and directing low budget schlock for producer Roger Corman.
But now that we live in film industry that’s filled with dazzling first-time directors like Jordan Peele (Get Out) and Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), it’s really hard to go back and pass off a simply “passable” job as something that is “brilliant.”
Again, I don’t get any joy in dumping on a small production like this, especially since, from what I could gather, every member of the cast and crew had their hearts in the right place while making it.
Sadly, good intentions alone aren’t enough to convince me that this movie is some kind of hidden gem. The various moving parts on display just don’t end up coalescing as a whole, which left me feeling like the movie ended 10−15 minutes before its story was complete.
But be sure to take my criticism with a golf ball sized grain of salt, since pretty much every professional movie critic under the sun disagrees with me.
Besides, who am I to second-guess the benevolent wisdom of the great Siskel and Ebert?
Corner store companion:
Lay’s Ketchup Chips (because it’s not for me, but I can understand why other people like it).
-Release date: May 8, 1992
-Budget: $2.3 million
-Box office gross: $1.5 million (estimated)
-Despite my reservations about his early work, director Carl Franklin took home a number of accolades from his peers during the 1992−93 film awards circuit, including “Best Director” at the 1993 Independent Spirit Awards and the “New Generation Award” at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards.
-Two decades later, Franklin managed to carve out an impressive directing career for himself after his initial success in the 1990s. Today, he’s managed to generate steady work for himself on a lot of hit TV shows, sporting directing credits for: Homeland, Bloodline, 13 Reasons Why, and, most recently, Mindhunter. He was even nominated for a Primetime Emmy after helming “Chapter 14” from House of Cards (you know, the episode with the subway).
-This film marks Billy Bod Thornton’s first film writing credit, which would earn him a nomination for “Best Screenplay” at the 1993 Independent Spirit Awards. Thornton would eventually walk way with that prize in 1997 thanks to his screenplay for Sling Blade.
-Co-stars Cynda Williams and Billy Bob Thornton got married shortly after filming on One False Move wrapped. They were divorced before the film was released two years later.