Sometimes you find yourself going to a movie theater with no clue what you are going to see. You might recognize the random title or actor but the plot of the film escapes you. You haven’t seen the trailer and you haven’t read one online review. Now, this used to be much more normal than it is today. In today’s world, you have the opportunity to know the entire film plot including post-credits scenes and deleted content before you taste one kernel of popcorn. So being surprised in a movie theater can be a pretty cool experience and that is just what happened with Beyond the Reach (2014).
Michael Douglas (Ant-Man) stars as the corporate big league player John Madec. John has arrived in the Mojave Desert to hunt bighorn sheep. He’s all about adding trophies to his collection, flashing around his European all-terrain vehicle (complete with mini-bar and microwave) and state-of-the-art rifle. After paying the local sheriff off since he didn’t have the proper hunting license, he hires young Ben (Jeremy Irvine, The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death) to guide him. However, after Madec accidentally shoots the old prospector Charlie, Madec offers Ben a payoff to avoid scandal. He’s getting ready to close a huge financial deal and he can’t avoid the negative publicity. But when Ben’s conscience gets the better of him, an intense game of cat and mouse begins. With temperatures reaching 130 degrees and no water, can Ben last long enough to outwit the crazy Madec and avenge his friend’s murder?
Michael Douglas turns in an awesome performance as the nutcase Madec. Early on in the movie, it’s almost like we’re seeing his Wall Street character Gordon Gekko in a new desert local. At 70 years old, he closely resembles his father Kirk Douglas, now more than ever. He does eventually turn the corner and dips into the over-the-top pool just a little but never at jeopardizing the movie. This is his showcase as the supporting cast is, admittedly, a little weak. Jeremy Irvine actually does well when he’s sharing the screen with Douglas. However, his immaturity as an actor tends to shine through a little when it’s just him up on the screen. But that also goes well with the development of his character. Ronny Cox (Robocop, Total Recall) does a good turn as the sheriff, for what little that role offers. Ben’s girlfriend Laina is played by young actress Hanna Mangan Lawrence. Honestly, she comes across as very flat. While her role isn’t big, a better actress could have made that character come to life in ways Hanna never does.
This intense thriller is actually based on the 1972 novel Deathwatch written by Robb White. He was in his 60s when he wrote the novel and died in 1990. What isn’t being publicized is that it is also a remake of the 1974 made-for-TV flick Savages, which featured Andy Griffith in the lead role as Madec. Beyond the Reach has obviously been updated as a satellite phone, which plays a key role in this new film, was not a plot device in the novel nor the original movie. And Hollywood has had to throw in a jump scare or two into the mix for good measure.
Whereas the novel and TV movie focused on people not believing Ben’s story once he returns, that plot point is glossed over in favor of a somewhat surprising ending. Yes, Madec’s return is somewhat typical clichéd Hollywood but I honestly didn’t think they would go for that here, so it did surprise me. I also got hints of The Most Dangerous Game with a little bit of Duel. Man against madman against the desert setting. Simplistic and stark, which works quite well.
Beyond the Reach was a pleasant surprise and one that I recommend. It made some festival rounds last year and is now playing in limited release, so it may be hard to find in the theaters. However, you can rent it on Amazon Instant Video or iTunes and a DVD release is planned for June 16. Check out the trailer for yourself and watch it whenever and however you can. I for one will not be making any trips to the desert any time soon.