Beyond the Reach (2014)

Directed by Jean-Baptiste Leonetti
Written by Stephen Susco

Between making blockbuster hits, stars these days are often bolstering their resumes and acting chops by cutting their teeth either on the stage or by participating in low budget indie films that either go directly to DVD, or are only released on a minimal amount of screens nationwide. While I would no longer classify Michael Douglas as a star, his time has passed, he is still a big, recognizable name with many great titles to his name. Star power can often buoy films like Beyond the Reach at the box office, allowing the actor to deliver on the promise of a vehicle for their talents to shine. Every so often, the story and direction of a small time movie can make an impact as well, star power or not. But when the two are marries harmoniously in the creative landscape of independent filmmaking, something truly special happens.

Beyond the Reach, as already stated, doesn’t quite qualify, not only given Douglas’ presence, but also the creative achievements of director Jean-Baptiste Leonetti. For while Douglas is enjoyable to watch, the ambition of Beyond the Reach remains somewhat restrained, relying on a very simple plot to hold the framework which allows for set pieces to flourish. The film follows rich businessman Madec (Michael Douglas) who sets out into the desert with local deputy and hired guide Ben (Jeremy Irvine) on a hunt for Big Horn sheep. But soon, when Madec makes a careless hunting mistake, the sport of hunting Big Horn quickly turns on the duo and the pair participate in a thrilling, and sadistic, game of cat and mouse through the barren, scorched countryside.

The film opens on Ben, giving us just enough of a backstory to care about his well-being, as he heads into the adventure with the cocky LA businessman. Writing is certainly one of the films weaker aspects, often relying too heavily of the excitement of the situation to carry the story, and leaning on clunky dialogue in between. Michael Douglas’ Madec is more a caricature than he is a character. His brash and overdone personality allows Douglas to go somewhat big in his performance, but this also makes him somewhat cartoonish in a setting and storyline that otherwise suggests a gritty and very real danger. I’m split on how to call Douglas, big and great or big and distracting.

Jeremy Irvine on the other hand is much more grounded, which creates too great a gap between performance style to not be taken out of the experience of the film at least once or twice. That being said, with lack of enjoyable dialogue and difference in performance, director Jean-Baptiste Leonetti manages to infuse plenty of excitement into the proceedings with stunning desert scenes and truly thrilling games of cat and mouse throughout. Not knowing what the budget was for this film, but imagining it wasn’t much, I have to admit that Beyond the Reach is what every low budget film should be. It doesn’t have the budget for an amazing cast, so instead it focuses on a smaller cast with more impact. It doesn’t have the budget for amazing explosions, so instead it creates thrill through good old fashioned tension of character and setting.

Perhaps this is a case of low expectations easily exceeded, or perhaps Beyond the Reach really is as enjoyable as it was for me, but at the very least I can say this is a movie that is better than it deserves to be, with elements working where most times they wouldn’t, but that is something we should celebrate rather than attempt to rationalize or analyze. This is the type of story that I could see being beefed up to a bigger budget, with a bigger cast, bigger explosions, and likely more ridiculous scenarios. It would do well at the box office and quite possibly be better than Beyond the Reach, but that being said, Beyond the Reach managed to be a nice set of thrills with a short run time, and a short budget.

*** – Very Good


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