ONE FALSE MOVE 4K Review: Hold Your Breath, Never Relax

Bill Paxton, Cynda Williams, Billy Bob Thornton and Michael Beach star in director Carl Franklin's masterful indie thriller, now in 4K from the Criterion Collection.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
ONE FALSE MOVE 4K Review: Hold Your Breath, Never Relax

"Dale doesn't know any better; he watches television. I read non-fiction."

One False Move
The film is now available from The Criterion Collection in separate editions: 4K UHD + Blu-ray combo and Blu-ray only.

A whip-smart, crackerjack thriller that is driven entirely by its characters, One False Move is a rare gem that shines brighter each time it's played.

I say this with confidence because, although I have only watched it three times, each time it gets better, as I notice more of the subtle twists and turns in the plot, understand the characters and their motivations to a deeper degree, and appreciate the skill of the actors to a greater degree. In 1992, based on its promising critical reception at several film festivals, producer Jesse Beaton argued for a limited theatrical release to secure more "quotes from critics" that could be emblazoned on VHS tapes for its release to the home video rental market.

From there, word of mouth spread and awards followed, including Carl Franklin winning an Indie Spirit Award for Best Director.

It's the movie that Billy Bob Thornton wrote with his partner Tom Epperson before Sling Blade (1996) earned Thornton an Academy Award for his script. It's the movie that Franklin directed before helming the superb Devil in a Blue Dress (1995).

By that point, Franklin had already directed three low-budget action films for Roger Corman's production company, so it's not like he was a total novice, which is made vividly apparent on the invaluable audio commentary recorded in 1999 for the film's release on DVD, included on both the 4K and Blu-ray discs from Criterion. Actor turned director Franklin makes sure to point out individual actors and note the reasons for their casting, noting, for example, that Natalie Canerday was serving as the filmmakers guide on their hunt for shooting locations in Arkansas when they thought to ask the stage actress to audition for an essential role as Cheryl Ann, who makes the astute observation about her husband, Dale "Hurricane" Dixon (Bill Paxton), quoted at the beginning of this article.

Cheryl Ann knows that her dear husband is engaged in a bit of hero worship toward the veteran Los Angeles police detectives, McFeeley (Earl Billings) and Cole (Jim Metzler), who have come to the small town of Star City, Arkansas, hoping to catch a murderous pair of criminals, the paranoid, drug-fueled wild card Ray (Billy Bob Thornton) and the cold, calculating, scheming, brilliant Pluto (Michael Beach). As much as Ray is a stick of dynamite whose all-too-short fuse has already been lit, Pluto overmatches him for sheer evil.

We've seen both Ray and Pluto commit heinous acts of violence toward unwary victims, and know that they both are menace incarnate. Their savage, unnerving, murderous acts set the stage immediately for what is to follow; even when their tempers are lowered, they are still simmering, boiling, roiling with rage and anger. It's frightening.

Between the two, Fantasia (Cynda Williams), Ray's girlfriend/victim, appears to be the peacemaker. In fact, she is anything but, and the way that director Carl Franklin ensures that much of the action is shown through her eyes makes that abundantly clear. The script follows the trio as they drive across the US from Los Angeles, heading toward Arkansas and an inevitable showdown in Star City.

From what we've observed in the opening sequence, an incredibly violent scene in which multiple people are murdered in cold blood, a nauseating sequence, our nerves are amped up, waiting to see which person they encounter on the road may be the next victim. That's contrasted with what's happening in Star City, as the two Los Angeles detectives arrive in the small town, where Hurricane (Bill Paxton) has never needed to fire his revolver during his six years of chief of police, and yearns to join 'the big time' in a big city like Los Angeles. And now the crime is coming to him!

Hurricane is eager for action and, simultaneously, hopelessly naive. He's a lovely, endearing fellow and treats everyone around him with kindness. He loves his wife and their little girl. He treats his two subordinates with respect. He is kind toward his neighbors in the community he polices. Even so, he's inclined to cheat, just a little bit, with the diner where he eats breakfast every day, which is a tiny suggestion that he likes to break rules, knowing he can get away with it as an officer of the law, which comes into play as the story develops.

Bill Paxton, who'd already made a mark as a notable supporting player in films like Aliens and Near Dark, handles the lead role with aplomb, shifting emotions imperceptibly and convincingly. He makes for an entirely empathetic character, his Hurricane a gentle storm until the forces around him cause him to put his back up and take command, at least as best he can.

Billy Bob Thornton is ferocious. Michael Beach is terrifying. Cynda Williams, in her first dramatic role of any substance, is incredible to watch as she shifts through an amazing range of emotions, each more credible than the last.

The Picture and Sound: 4K vs. Blu-ray

It's a new 4K digital restoration, prepared by Sony Pictures Entertainment, which prepared the original DVD in 1999, and is approved by director Carl Franklin. As sharp and true as the color look on the Blu-ray, which has been cleaned up nicely, the transfer looks even better in 4K, as you'd expect, the blacks looking absolutely without color, the colors themselves deeper hued and truer.

My 4K player upconverted the Blu-ray nicely, but the 4K version looked better, popping in ways that I would not have expected from a low-budget ($2 million) independently-produced film, released in 1992. The 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is impeccable in how it sounds, so that the guitar and harmonica solos ring precise and true.

The Extras

This is close to a bare-bones edition, with only one new extra feature, a newly-recorded, 27-minute, on-camera conversation between director Carl Franklin and actor-writer Billy Bob Thornton. It's a very good, informative, and lively conversation that fills in blanks about how the script moved into production, notes on the making of the film, how the film gained a theatrical release, and how it boosted the careers of the people involved.

As mentioned, Franklin's audio commentary from 1999 is also included. It, too, is good, as Franklin relates how the film got into production. He also points out scenes in the film that Thornton revised or added during production, usually per Franklin's suggestions. He also notes exactly how they came to change their plans for the final scene in the movie, which ends on a memorable note.

A terrific essay by novelist William Boyle is printed on a fold-out sheet. It's very good, isolating certain thematic elements in the film and relating it as a whole to the author's own life.

Buy, Rent, or Pass?

A definite "buy," in my opinion, if you have any inclination toward crime thrillers in general, especially independent productions from the late 80s through the early 90s. One False Move is a unique beauty that deserves your (renewed) attention.

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Bill PaxtonBilly Bob ThorntonCarl FranklinCriterion CollectionCynda WilliamsMichael Beach

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