Starring Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Cynda Williams
Directed by Carl Franklin
Written By Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson
Rated: R
Running Time: 1hr 45mins

WINNER – INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARD: Best Director (Carl Franklin)
NOMINEE – INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARD: Best Feature, Best Female Lead (Cynda Williams), Best Screenplay (Billy Bob Thornton & Tom Epperson), Best Original Score (Terry Plumeri, Peter Heycock & Derek Holt)

“Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel gave me a career. I get a little choked up. What happened was that IRS Media was primarily a straight-to-video company and weren’t really equipped to market films theatrically. They didn’t really have a lot of faith in “One False Move.” What happened is that my wife, Jessie Beaton, who produced the film, got it booked and Anne Thompson saw it at the Palm Springs Film Festival and John Hartl saw it in Seattle. Then Sheila Benson saw it and took it to the Floating Film Festival. That is where Roger Ebert saw it and he and Gene Siskel just became champions for it and talked about it on whatever show. They single-handedly became our marketing.” – Carl Franklin, Director of ONE FALSE MOVE –

Initially slated for a straight to video release by IRS Media, director Carl Franklin’s edgy low budget crime drama ONE FALSE MOVE garnered rave reviews from film festival screenings and a strong push by legendary film critics Gene Siskel (who named it the best film of 1992) and Roger Ebert (who had it at #2) allowing it to eventually secure a small theatrical run. Unfortunately, even with all the positive praise surrounding it (The film currently holds a 94% certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes), the film was still ignored at the box office, making only a little over $1.5 million, before being quickly forgotten. 

With interesting characters and a tightly written screenplay, ONE FALSE MOVE takes its time to tell a complex story that is both a slow burn and edge-of-your-seat experience. It’s a dark and violent look at a group of complicated characters who are all flawed in their own way and whose stories are much more involved than they first might seem.

ONE FALSE MOVE opens with two criminals, Ray (Billy Bob Thornton) and Pluto (Michael Beach) slaughtering several people in Los Angeles while ripping off some local drug dealers. Ray’s girlfriend, Fantasia (Cynda Williams), seemingly the more innocent of the group, is an accomplice along for the ride as the trio flees to Texas to sell the drugs they’ve stolen to one of Pluto’s connections. Meanwhile, a couple of L.A. city cops, Dud (Jim Metzler) and McFeely (Earl Billings), travel to Star City, Arkansas, where they believe the trio might be heading to meet up with Ray’s uncle. Here they join up with the local chief of police, Dale “Hurricane” Dixon” (Bill Paxton), an excitable small-town cop who is thrilled to be working on a big-city case and views it as a way to break out of the world of small-town crime and into the world of big-city law enforcement, where he believes the real excitement is.

The script was written by two writers who have had great success in Hollywood but were relatively unknown at the time of ONE FALSE MOVE’s release. Billy Bob Thornton (SLING BLADE) and Tom Epperson (THE GIFT) deliver a complex story where very little in the plot and character development is what it first appears to be. The film starts off with a violent crime and seems to be setting the audience up for a police procedural before quickly becoming something else. As a strong character piece, it’s the human stories that drive the plot forward as the straightforward cop movie mentality is pushed aside to explore the complexities of the three very differing baddies, their complicated relationships and the hopes, aspirations and realizations of the small-town cop who awaits their arrival in his hometown. Thornton and Epperson’s script explores the deeper emotional elements of the characters and as the plot twists are revealed, the characters’ lives become more complex, effectively giving the film much more depth.  

Director Carl Franklin’s direction is first-rate, using cinematographer James L.Carter to help create the richly textured gritty tones needed to tell a story of this kind.  Combined with an incredible score composed by Peter Haycock, Derek Holt, and Terry Plumeri, we get a very melancholy dry atmosphere that gives the film a vibe that grounds it in a kind of reality that perfectly complements the story being told.

ONE FALSE MOVE is ultimately a complex look at a group of complicated characters. The protagonist, Dale, is played by Bill Paxton. Giving one of his most powerful performances, he brings some real enthusiasm to the role, playing Dale as a fast-talking Police Chief who lives up to his nickname “Hurricane” because he seems unable to really stay still. Living a fairly peaceful life with his wife and child, he longs for something more exciting than the petty crimes he is used to. In the 6 years that he has been a cop he has never even had an opportunity to pull his weapon, so when he is informed that a big murder case may be making its way to his small town, he sees this as something to get excited about and can’t wait to prove himself.  Unfortunately, everything he knows about the outside world of big-city law and order he’s learned from TV, ultimately making Dale a little naive to the severity of the situation being presented. He may know how to run things in a small town but that doesn’t mean he’s prepared for the trouble coming his way. 

Meanwhile, the three antagonists come off as a dysfunctional family. Pluto and Ray seem to be a natural fit with the violent world that they live in. There is a certain indifference in their attitudes towards the violent acts that they commit. Ray, played by future Oscar Nominee Billy Bob Thornton, is the reckless type, usually acting without thinking. Violence seems to be a part of who he is and something he cannot control. Meanwhile, Pluto likes to take a different approach and may be the more interesting of the two. As we get to know him, he seems more like the kind of person who would be uncomfortable with the kind of violence he causes. A college graduate with an IQ of 150, he is well dressed and gives off a very quiet demeanor. He likes to think things through and seems very centered emotionally. But, make no mistake about it, when the time comes, he has no issue killing someone who opposes him and he does so with ease.  His choice of weapon is a knife, a weapon where he has to get in close to his victim to make the kill. At first, his actions seem more fitting to someone like Ray, which makes Pluto unpredictable and therefore more frightening.

The trio is rounded out by Ray’s girlfriend Fantasia, played with a subtle emotional presence by Cynda Williams. She is the damaged soul in ONE FALSE MOVE, and because of a troubled past and the fact that she has fallen in with someone like Ray, her bad side has begun to surface and play on her judgment. She is someone that has a lot more going on underneath the surface than we first realize. As the movie begins, she is seen saving a little boy’s life even though he witnesses the violence that Pluto and Ray have committed. This falsely sets her up as someone with a heart only to then have her real nature reveal itself as she commits one of the movie’s most shocking acts of violence, causing us to question everything we have learned about her up to that point.  A woman who comes off as a minor player in the story ultimately becomes the driving force of almost everything that the other characters do.  She is the only one who has a relationship with every one of the key players and so many of the choices that she makes lead them all to the inevitable climactic moments that end the film.

The most interesting revelation comes from a reveal regarding a past between Fantasia and Dale (and it’s not what you’re probably thinking). What seems to be a simple plot reveal turns out to be something much deeper.  It’s a reveal that puts a new element of morality onto the character of Dale as it exposes a major flaw in who he is as a person and gives an unlikable quality to a character that we have grown to like, allowing the closing moments of the film to work on a more emotional level than the viewer may expect.

ONE FALSE MOVE is an intelligent and thought-provoking film that, as both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert made clear, was one of the best films that 1992 had to offer and definitely deserved a much wider audience.  An edgy throwback to the noir films of yesteryear, director Carl Franklin has created a movie that continually keeps the viewer off guard as with every turn we begin to realize that our first impressions of both the characters and story generally turn out to be the wrong impressions. Packed with interesting characters and a tightly written screenplay, the film takes its time in telling a thrilling, yet, complex story that is not to be missed. 


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