Before Billy Bob Thornton became a huge Hollywood star in the 90s, he was pitching scripts with his partner, writer Tom Epperson, and the duo finally got one produced in the 1992 neo-noir One False Move. Director Carl Franklin helmed the project and was the perfect match for the material, and now we have this long-underrated thriller in stunning 4K aided by Dolby Vision HDR. While the supplements package leaves a bit to be desired, the new transfer does not, and thus this new Criterion release comes Recommended!
The noir genre certainly made a comeback and with a new fresh coat of paint in the 1990s, with David Lynch’s Lost Highway, Oliver Stone’s U-Turn and David Fincher’s Seven all putting their weight behind playing with the noir tropes within a modern setting. It was a beautiful time filled with just hit after hit of wry, unfussy dialogue and crackling violence set within the lives of outsiders. Carl Franklin’s One False Move may be one of the most unheralded of the bunch, and that’s certainly not for lack of trying on behalf of film critics over the years.
Franklin’s straightforward, terse direction turned out to be a perfect fit for the script, as he was able to give full, confident realization to the ways in which our institutions demean Black people based upon their social status, even if those people are members of those institutions. Where the harsh realities of white supremacy in the south give way to sudden violence, the same attention is given to the film’s characters living on the margins and navigating a violent situation where they’re at a disadvantage because of their color. You’d think such a hefty idea would be hard to visualize, but Franklin does so with such ease and attention to character that it seems so deceptively simple. But it isn’t, it never is.
Ray (Billy Bob Thornton), Pluto (Michael Beach) and Ray’s girlfriend Fantasia (Cynda Williams) are three criminals on the lam after murdering six people in Los Angeles to acquire a cache of cocaine and money. The trio head to Star City, Arkansas, where they plan to sell the coke to one of Pluto’s contacts. Fantasia is actually Lila, a woman with a past in Star City, and it has all to do with the local sheriff, Dale Dixon (Bill Paxton). With Dale assisting two FBI agents investigating the whereabouts of the trio, the unspoken truth is bound to come out.
There’s a genuine mastery of form in One False Move that I’ve never been able to shake. I think about the way in which Dale tries to ingratiate himself in with the two FBI agents and watching them politely suffer the musings of a small-town sheriff. And then I think about how that small-town sheriff is unwittingly using his privilege to right a wrong that’s only bound to bring more pain. The world in which Dale walks through is much different than Lila’s, and the film delicately paints that picture with character interactions.
That’s not to say that the film is without its thrills, of which they are sudden and unrelenting in a way. If noirs romanticized violence as an extension of the moral turpitude in which the story sits, then One False Move pares it all down to the essentials, opting to let the audience infer the action through montage than get their kicks off the nastiness of what’s happening. Yet another unique thing to be found in this great work. As someone who has seen One False Move plenty of times, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
Small-town history becomes a big-time problem in One False Move, presented here as a two-disc (4K and Blu-ray) set from Criterion. The 4K disc is a BD66 and the Blu-ray is a BD50, and they’re both housed in the standard clear Scanavo case from Criterion. Both discs boot up to standard menu screens with options to play the film, set up audio, browse special features and select chapters.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve seen One False Move many times, including on the big screen and projected on 35mm. That’s all to say that I found this 2160p presentation to be a beautiful rendering of how the film is supposed to look. The HEVC-encoded picture is sourced from a new 4K restoration of the original 35mm camera negative, and you truly notice that as soon as the credits roll. The film’s color palette – filled with browns, blacks, beiges and everything in between – has been respected wonderfully. The Dolby Vision HDR brings the most out of those nighttime sequences, with inky blacks making those shots of headlamps cutting through empty, dark landscapes look incredible. The source looks to be in terrific condition, with only a small bump or nick to be found throughout, and film grain is representative of 90s-era stock.
You don’t always get a 2.0 DTS-HD MA surround track with releases, so this is one to celebrate. Dialogue is rendered well for the most part, and bass is nicely tuned with the heightened violence. Fidelity is strong even when the track is a bit thin, but I mark that up to the film’s original low budget and short shooting schedule. Source is in good condition as well.
It took a very long time to get One False Move in stunning HD, and it’s a bit disappointing to see such a small supplements package on this Criterion release of the film. Other than the 1999 audio commentary with Franklin carried over from the old DVD, there’s only a 27-minute interview between Franklin and Billy Bob Thornton, as well as a theatrical trailer, to round out this release. The talk between the two is very worthwhile, with Thornton detailing how him and Epperson split the writing work, and Franklin touching upon some technical details.
The harsh, sunbaked realities of the south get shaken up in Carl Franklin’s One False Move, finally available to own on disc with a great 4K Blu-ray and Blu-ray package from Criterion. The new 4K presentation is nothing short of stunning, pulling the most out of the source and rendering it beautifully. And while the supplements package leaves a bit to be desired, this release comes Recommended!