Film Review: One False Move (1992)


Billy Bob Thornton is not only one of the best character actors of his generation, but also an accomplished screenwriter. Both of those talents are on display in One False Move, 1992 crime thriller directed by Carl Franklin.

The plot begins in Los Angeles where trio of petty criminals – black ex convict Pluto (played by Michael Beach), his white prison friend Ray Malcolm (played by Thornton) and Ray’s black girlfriend Fantasia (played by Cynda Williams) – raid two drug dens and steal large amount of drugs and 15,000 US$, brutally executing six potential witnesses in the processes. LAPD investigates the massacre and manage to find a clue about killers’ possible destination – small town of Star City, Arkansas where both Ray and Fantasia have relatives. LAPD sends there detectives Dud Cole (played by Jim Metzler) and McFeely (played by Earl Billings) to investigate. They are greeted by Dale “Hurricane” Dixon (played by Robert Paxton), local police chief whose quiet sleepy town didn’t offer many opportunity for major police work, so he is quite enthusiastic about helping set up possible trap for killers. The trio, however, intends to sell the loot and disperse, but killing of Texas state trooper and problems with potential buyers force them to go to Star City anyway. Dixon’s actions are, however, going to be hampered with some embarrassing secrets from his pasts involving Fantasia.

It is often wrongly stated that One False Move was Franklin’s directorial debut. Franklin, who had started career as an actor on television, previously made couple of exploitation films, but it was One False Move that won critics and established him as competent and serious film maker. Although made with very low budget, this film features very effective combination of thriller, drama road film and little hints of western. Franklin as director uses minimalistic style, showing the most brutal acts of violence in most banal way, thus achieving not only great deal of realism but also creating suspense that would be successfully maintained for the rest of the film. Script, co-authored by Thornton and Tom Epperson, also uses this somewhat unusual genre combination to explore cultural and racial divisions in modern America.

One False Move also benefits a lot from very good cast. Thornton, on one hand, doesn’t have to work hard with the stereotypical role of unintelligent, violent and impulsive “white trash” criminal, while Michael Beach is more effective as menacing as his bespectacled, soft-spoken, intelligent but deadly partner who prefers knives to guns when it comes to taking out people. Cynda Williams, who was married to Thornton shortly after the production ended, is somewhat less effective in complex role of a woman who makes wrong choices but nevertheless reminds protagonists of guilty conscience. Bill Paxton is best member of the cast, who, at least initially plays the most likeable character. Unfortunately, almost anyone in this film in the end makes “false moves” and does something (or did it in the past) that makes them unlikeable (that includes even LAPD detectives who are openly disdainful of their rural colleague) and when the predictable bloody showdown comes at the end, it isn’t as impactful as it could have been. Franklin also has some problems with the pace, as well as music by Peter Haycock, Derek Holt and Terry Plumeri that is used on the wrong segments and make the otherwise realistic film too melodramatic at the end. One False Move is nevertheless a good film that could be recommended to the fans of the genre and cast, although not as good as some of its enthusiastic supporters claimed to be.

RATING: 6/10 (++)

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