One False Move (4K UHD)

Director: Carl Franklin
Screenplay: Billy Bob Thornton & Tom Epperson
Stars: Bill Paxton (Dale “Hurricane” Dixon), Cynda Williams (Fantasia / Lila), Billy Bob Thornton (Ray Malcolm), Michael Beach (Pluto), Jim Metzler (Dud Cole), Earl Billings (McFeely), Natalie Canerday (Cheryl Ann), Robert Ginnaven (Charlie), Robert Anthony Bell (Byron), Kevin Hunter (Ronnie)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1992
Country: U.S.
One False Move Criterion Collection 4K UHD
One False Move

In the brutal opening of Carl Franklin’s superior thriller One False Move, three criminals—Roy (Billy Bob Thornton), Pluto (Michael Beach), and Roy’s girlfriend Fantasia (Cynda Williams)—disrupt a birthday party by stabbing, shooting or suffocating everyone in sight and making off with a suitcase full of cocaine to be sold to a friend in Houston. It is hard, unrelenting sequence that immediately establishes the realm of viciousness the characters inhabit and their willingness to do whatever they need to do to get what they want. They are genuinely, chillingly, dangerous in a way so many movie criminals are not.

We are then introduced to Dud (Jim Metzler) and McFeely (Earl Billings), two hardened Los Angeles detectives who are assigned the case. They have good reason to believe that the Roy, Pluto, and Fantasia are headed to Star City, a small town in rural Arkansas. They meet up with Dale “Hurricane” Dixon (Bill Paxton), the local sheriff who has lived in Star City his whole life and run the police department for six years without ever having to draw his gun (his most taxing activity each week is subduing the town drunk from bashing in his own front door). Dale is an eager, overly ambitious good ol’ boy, fed on a diet of television cops and robbers that makes him excited and anxious to get in on the “big city action” headed his way, much to the dismay of his homely wife (Natalie Canerday) and the chagrin of the actual “big city” police detectives, who like him well enough, but also recognize how far out of his league he actually is.

While the driving force behind the plot is fairly predictable, you are unlikely to guess some of the complications that ensue or the dark secrets that are revealed. The film constantly keeps you on your toes, toying with your expectations and emotions, and it gets better and better as it goes, adding layer upon layer and picking up steam as the characters are drawn together into an inevitable final confrontation. Not all the good characters are as good as they seem at first, and not all the bad characters are quite so bad; the film draws the characters in varying shades of gray, refusing to simplify things into the comforts of black and white.

The screenplay was the first produced by co-writers by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson, who would go on to co-write A Family Thing (1996), Don’t Look Back (1996), The Gift (2000), and Jayne Mansfield’s Car (2012), the last of which Thornton also directed. Thornton, of course, was just a few years away from his breakout film, Sling Blade (1996), for which he won a Best Screenplay Oscar (he also directed and played the lead role, which also netted him an Oscar nomination). At the time, Thornton had scored a dozen small and bit roles in low-budget movies and television series, which gave little indication of the enormity of his talent. His performance as Roy is mostly vulgar bluster and anger, and he sinks his teeth into the role with a nasty intensity that is set sharply against the cold, calculating sadism of Michael Beach’s Pluto. While Roy is rash and unthinking, much is made of Pluto’s 160 IQ. Of course, both men are incredibly violent and thoughtless of human life, with Roy doing his damage with a gun while Pluto opts to get more personal with a wickedly sharp knife.

Bill Paxton, who was one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors at the time, makes a great turn as Dale, the seemingly naïve small-town sheriff. When he is first introduced, he feels like a broad and simplistic caricature of Arkansas hickdom. However, Paxton gives the performance subtle textures, and there are things about him you won’t expected. He is anxious to be the big hero, but plot developments give him new and different motives that make him one of the most complex characters in the film. However, it is Cynda Williams’s Fantasia who is the film’s most moving character. A drug addict who doesn’t like where she is or what she is doing, she is nevertheless too weak to escape her situation. As things get more and more out of hand, you can feel her being slowly dragged into a pit from which she will never be able to escape. In this way, she is the classic Shakespearean tragic figure, a twist on the femme fatale, who very well could have been a better person under different circumstances, which is what gives the film its lacerating dramatic heft.

One False Move Criterion Collection 4K UHD + Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
  • DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo
  • SubtitlesEnglish
  • Audio commentary from 1999 by director Carl Franklin
  • Video conversation between Franklin and co-writer/actor Billy Bob Thornton
  • Trailer
  • Essay by author William Boyle
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    Release DateJuly 25, 2023

    I last saw One False Move when it was first released on DVD back in 1999, so seeing it on Criterion’s new 4K UHD disc with Dolby Vision HDR was a genuine pleasure. I always remembered the film looking good, especially for its relatively low budget, but the new 4K transfer from the original 35mm camera negative with HDR color grading has brought out new layers and nuances in James L. Carter’s cinematography, adding in substantial depth and detail and highlighting the different color palettes (with the city scenes leaning more blue, the scenes in Arkansas revel in dusty earth tones). The original soundtrack has been transferred from the original 35mm 2.0 surround magnetic tracks and is presented on a solid DTS-HD Master Audio track. Criterion’s disc includes the audio commentary that Carl Franklin recorded for the ’99 DVD, and it is a great listen, a kind of mini-masterclass in first-rate independent filmmaking. Franklin also appears in a new half-hour video conversation with actor/co-screenwriter Billy Bob Thornton, which allows them to reminiscence on the production that helped establish both of their burgeoning careers. Also on the disc is a trailer, and the fold-out includes “Lock Things Up,” a new essay by author William Boyle.

    Copyright © 2023 James Kendrick

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    Overall Rating: (3.5)

    James Kendrick

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