THE REACH Review | TIFF 2014

     September 9, 2014

the-reach

I like the premise of humans hunting other humans for sport because it’s delightfully ludicrous and perversely entertaining.  It’s a lean, direct concept that removes the frills to become a battle of wits between the hunter and “the most dangerous game”.  For the majority of its runtime, Jean-Baptiste Léonetti’s The Reach sits comfortably inside this framework.  The story takes the occasional shortcut, but it also works in some subtext about economic inequality, which is a nice touch.  However, as the movie starts winding down, I realized I was perhaps giving Léonetti too much credit as The Reach crashes and burns in spectacular fashion.

Ben (Jeremy Irvine) is bummed about his girlfriend (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) leaving to go to college, but he doesn’t have much time to dwell on it as he’s recruited by the local sheriff (Ronny Cox) to be a guide for wealthy asshole Madec (Michael Douglas), who wants to go big game hunting in the Mojave Desert.  During their hunt, there’s a terrible accident, and Ben’s refusal to cover it up sends him on the run as Madec would prefer to let the environment take care of the young man.  This leads to a cat-and-mouse game as Ben tries to survive the blistering heat and escape the cruel hunter.

Aside from a goofy cold open, The Reach has a promising start because it’s broad enough to make Madec a clichéd rich jerk (imagine a dumber version of Gordon Gecko on holiday) but still tight enough to quickly set up the stakes and do so in an unexpected manner.  The story doesn’t start off with Madec hunting Ben for sport, and their ensuing conflict is good for what it is.  Léonetti and screenwriter Stephen Susco are forced to get creative since the characters are stuck in the middle of the desert, so there’s not much they can do when it comes to hiding spaces and traps.  In fact, the plot has to cheat on more than one occasions when it comes to items Ben discovers in order to fight back.

To be extremely charitable, these unlikely moments where Ben gets unbelievably lucky could be construed as a comment on class warfare.  Ben is poor, Madec is rich, and because Ben won’t sell his soul to cover up the accident, he’s expendable.  Like today’s poor, it’s no use being resourceful because there are no resources, and the rich are content to let the working class waste away.  The best these people can hope for is to get lucky like Ben finding a slingshot and marbles buried in the middle of the Mojave Desert.  And when it comes to Susco’s script, that’s about as far as I can stretch my suspension of disbelief.

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Then The Reach rips that suspension apart by becoming laughably terrible.  I’m just going to come right out and say what happens because it’s too amusing, and it’s not worth it to be vague on these unbelievable dumb endings (that’s right; there’s more than one).  So if you don’t want to know what happens but still want to see The Reach, it’s worth your time if it ever shows up on Netflix Instant and you don’t have anything better to do for ninety minutes.  Okay, spoilers ahead.

So near the end of the movie, Madec decides he’s finally had enough, and using dynamite he found in a hermit’s cave, he starts throwing it at Ben and screams, “Fool me once, shame on you!  Fool me twice, I KEEEL YOOOOU!”  Then Madec starts shooting at Ben, and when he tries to reload, Ben knocks out Madec by firing a marble into his head.  Then they go back to the station where Madec implies that he’s going to buy off the sheriff or he’ll get off thanks to a high-priced lawyer.  But while no one is looking, Madec runs out of the station, into the street, and boards helicopter—a helicopter that no one heard coming.  So Madec gets away.

But wait!  There’s more!  Ben decides he wants to be with his girlfriend so even though he clearly needs more medical attention from his massive sunburn and other injuries, he goes to her house and gets in bed with her to cuddle.  Then we see Madec, who somehow found out where Ben would be and where his girlfriend lives, bust into her home while wielding a shotgun.  He goes up to her room, points the shotgun at the bed, and when he pulls the trigger, Ben wakes up in a cold sweat.  So that’s the end.

Except it isn’t.  It turns out Madec did break into the home, and does have a shotgun, but he’s sitting in the corner of the room, presumably waiting for Ben to wake up from the middle of a nightmare about these exact circumstances.  Thankfully, Ben gave his girlfriend a going away present at the beginning of the movie: a magnum revolver.  In another stroke of good fortune, she sleeps with it under her pillow even though she lives in a nice neighborhood.  Just as Madec is about to fire, she breaks out the revolver and shoots him.  He tumbles backwards, but he’s not dead.  Ben takes the gun, shoots Madec again, and Madec still doesn’t die.  He just tumbles back into the hallway.

Then, in a closing flourish that even a first year film student would find too much, the final shot is Ben pointing the gun directly into the camera (which is supposed to stand in for Madec’s POV), the frame freezes, cut to black, and then sound of a gun shot.  The ending of The Reach is even more ridiculous than hunting people for sport.

Rating: C-

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