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Side Street Films: Beyond The Reach

Thursday, October 1, 2015 by

Eden Cinemas’ innovative Side Street Films programme is aimed at showing that there is “more to cinema than Hollywood” – and we couldn’t agree more. Our resident cineaste Shaun Antnin takes a look at the fortnightly offerings from Eden’s artistically oriented programme and decides what they are worth.

This week’s offering features a silver haired Michael Douglas as Madec, a devious banker type who, equipped with a high calibre rifle and an enormous six-wheel-drive pick-up – the Mercedes G63 6X6, as featured in The Lost World, for those who care – decides to reassert his alpha male status by adding a ‘bighorn’ to his trophy cabinet. This particular protected species – a kind of sheep –is native to the Mojave Desert. Both hunting in the Mojave and going after this kind of sheep are strictly regulated, so our hero, skint young guide Ben, is hired to drive the money man out into the wilderness.

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Once safely out in the middle of nowhere, Madec informs Ben of his lack of a legal hunter’s permit, news which he initially turns a very reluctant blind eye to. His troubled conscience is assuaged somewhat by the substantial amount of wedge Madec hands him, along with his assurance that the friendly county sheriff responsible for assigning Ben this undertaking was also aware of the situation, and had accepted a similar pay-out. Ben soon regrets his temporary moral lapse when, in his keenness to bag something, Madec mistakenly kills something other than the prey he’d set out for.

As sole witness to the incident, the panicked Ben is now an inconvenience who must be dealt with. Consequently, rather than ‘bighorn’, the banker designates the ranger as his prey. From hereon the film depicts Madec’s pursuit of his former guide, interjected with occasional flashbacks as Ben reminisces about his girlfriend who has recently left their one horse town for university. How is the unarmed, unequipped ranger to escape the clutches of this man who wants to kill him?

I don’t base my viewing choices entirely on the opinions of those reviewers in foreign climes who beat me to the screening room, but the lack of quotes on the promotional poster had me feeling a little apprehensive. Conversely, having Douglas headlining had me intrigued; I was further intrigued by the production’s small cast and its desert setting, assuming this would stop any outside elements from impinging on a virtuoso performance by a very skilled actor. However, although certain assumptions were correct to an extent, others could not have been further from the truth.

Although Douglas’s performance was not as strong as his renowned turn in Behind the Candelabra, this film did not feature that kind of script, or that kind of character: in short it wasn’t that kind of film. If it isn’t explicitly clear from the precis above, this is an incredibly straightforward thriller full of excellent set pieces, some bursts of explosive action and lots of remarkably tense pursuit scenes: which just happens to feature Michael Douglas in the lead role, rather than, say, Bruce Willis or Samuel L. Jackson.

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Looking at it objectively, this film could have been ‘phoned in’ by a lesser actor, while an equally highly skilled actor could have done it on autopilot. Instead, Douglas does a great job, delivering a menacing, nuanced and occasionally humorous performance, while still making it all look oh-so-effortless. This is especially true when one considers that for large segments of the film he shares the screen with nothing other than the beautifully shot but barren desert landscape, with his co-star typically several score metres away.

Meanwhile, aforementioned co-star – British actor Jeremy Irvine, as all-American Ben – has a completely different set of demands foisted upon him, spending the majority of the film in only his underwear while performing a wide variety of physically demanding actions. Although this young man had already proven his versatility in roles in War Horse and The Railway Man, his acting chops were not really stretched here – even if his body is – but he does manage to pull off a faultless mid-West accent.

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As already outlined, this film isn’t aiming to pick up any awards – least of all for originality. It was predictable from start to finish, but in the best possible way! It reminded me of all those low budget made-for-TV movies from the Seventies and Eighties that I used to watch in the Nineties, when I was too old to have a bedtime but wasn’t quite old enough to go to the pub. Although I couldn’t shake off this prevalent sense of déjà vu I truly enjoyed it. It came as no surprise when I discovered it is actually a remake of Savages, a 1974 ABC ‘Movie of the Week’, which in turn was based on the 1972 novel Deathwatch.

Although this film could not be further from their previous offerings, their willingness to screening it further illustrates Sidestreet’s intention to diversify their scope and expand their target audience. If you are a fan of action films and thrillers and don’t expect to have your grey matter tested, this is a very pleasurable way to pass two hours.

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