The title of Joseph Losey’s unnerving and strange 1970 film Figures In A Landscape would be fitting for Jean-Baptiste Leonetti’s Beyond the Reach, which posits the same idea of man versus unrelenting nature. Yet, instead of an unexplained force of soldiers and a lone black helicopter stalking the runaway men in Losey’s effort, Leonetti pits man against man, or more specifically, good man against capitalist pig, in Beyond the Reach. With Michael Douglas as the über rich adventurer, out for some unlicensed hunting in the desert, guess who the capitalist pig is. Who knows…. it may even be a wry bit of casting, as if Gordon Gekko skated jail time and ended up here.
It’s this sudden presence of John Madec (Douglas) in a sleepy little town near the Mojave desert that brings young Ben (Jeremy Irvine) into the mix. Heartbroken and shouldering a melancholy hangover since his girlfriend (Hanna Lawrence) just left him for college, Ben shirks his better judgement and agrees to be the guide for hotshot Madec, reveling in his brand new hunting attire, sleek imported shotgun and Mars Rover-like vehicle that comes complete with an espresso machine, loudspeaker and panning light system.
It’s not long into the desert when Madec causes an accident and turns on Ben, partly because he’s written as a jaded megalomaniac intent on closing some shadowy deal with the Chinese, but also because the story demands its hunter-versus-prey theme evolve into something more sinister and emotionally viable.
From that point on, Beyond the Reach settles into thriller mode as young Ben tries to outwit his companion and make it out of the desert alive.
The first two thirds of Beyond the Reach is a taut, compellingly told story that relies on smart details and some genuine tension. We root for Ben and despise Douglas’ Madec, even though they’re one dimensionally drawn, simply because the foundations of good and evil are so assertive. It’s in the final twenty minutes that both the script and the logical trappings of the film are tossed out the window in several mind-numbing turns that not only deflates the good will established by its first half, but creates a lazy denouement that almost feels lazy or tacked on. It’s as if the test audiences violently opposed something more original or (gasp) morally ambivalent and the filmmakers made concessions to turn Beyond the Reach’s finale into a confused and utterly inane series of contrivances.
Director Frank Capra is quoted as saying “There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness.” With Beyond the Reach the cardinal sin is betraying the first 80 minutes of a solid film with a dull final ten.
Beyond the Reach opens in limited release on Friday April 17th.