Monday Movie: One False Move
Every Monday, we’ll recommend a movie. It could be a classic, an overlooked recent treasure, an unfairly maligned personal favorite or whatever the hell we feel like.
In 1992, Gene Siskel put Carl Franklin’s One False Move at the very top of his best of the year list, above work from Robert Altman, Neil Jordan, Spike Lee, Patrice Leconte and Mira Nair. Siskel wasn’t an outlier, either. The film ranks third for that year on Rotten Tomatoes. In the 22 years since, though, something seems to have been diminished, if not forgotten completely. One False Move doesn’t show up on many lists of the best films of the 90s. It might have something to do with Franklin’s legacy. Though his follow-up was the very well-received Devil in a Blue Dress, his later feature film career is marked by such works as the plucky but slight Out of Time from 2003 and last year’s bungled adaptation Bless Me, Ultima. Since then, he’s found regular work as a journeyman helmer for prestige television dramas like House of Cards, The Leftovers and Homeland. For this, I am thankful. But I wonder if he’ll ever get to make something as vital as One False Move again. The film, co-written by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson, concerns three criminals, the three cops who are after them, and one little boy. Thornton, Michael Beach and Cynda Williams play the outlaws who flee Los Angeles after a drug deal goes fatally wrong. They hide out in Star City, Arkansas, where two LAPD detectives (Earl Billings and Jim Metzler) track them, meeting up with Star City chief of police Dale Dixon (Bill Paxton). Franklin doesn’t just balance all of these various characters, each with their own fault and motivations. He conducts them like an orchestra playing a symphony of brutality and dread whose final crescendo is both stark and poetic. Tension lays down on the film like a blanket of soft snow that eventually gains enough weight to cave the roof in. The violence is bracing, the sadness is permeating and both modes are in a sick sort of harmony. Franklin draws precise performances out of his entire cast but Paxton is the standout. He’s never been better. One False Move was almost never released theatrically. It was saved from a direct to video fate by positive reviews (proof, along with Red Rock West’s similar tale, that people who distribute movies often don’t know a damned thing). 22 years later, it’s a shame to see that fervor die down.