Combustible Celluloid Review - One False Move (1992), Billy Bob Thornton, Tom Epperson, Carl Franklin, Bill Paxton, Cynda Williams, Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Beach, Jim Metzler, Earl Billings, Natalie Canerday
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With: Bill Paxton, Cynda Williams, Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Beach, Jim Metzler, Earl Billings, Natalie Canerday
Written by: Billy Bob Thornton, Tom Epperson
Directed by: Carl Franklin
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 105
Date: 05/07/1992

One False Move (1992)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Number 'One'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This excellent crime movie about murder, drugs, and money came out about the same time as Reservoir Dogs but did not receive the same kind of attention, aside from Siskel & Ebert. Siskel selected it as the year's best film, and Ebert ranked it as #2, after Spike Lee's Malcolm X. The movie unfolds in two equal halves, and one of its greatest achievements is that both halves are told with the same attention to detail and the same emotional weight. The first follows three bad guys on the run through Texas and Arkansas: the quiet, yet violent Black, bespectacled Pluto (Michael Beach), the psychotic, white Ray (Billy Bob Thornton), and his girlfriend, Fantasia (Cynda Williams). The other story follows small town sheriff Dale "Hurricane" Dixon (Bill Paxton), and two big city police detectives, Dud Cole (Jim Metzler) and John McFeely (Earl Billings), who are trying to catch the criminals. "Hurricane" desperately wants to fit in with the city slickers, although they see him only as a local hayseed. As the story unfolds, a tenuous connection between the two halves becomes clear, and it packs a mighty wallop. Director Carl Franklin, who had made low-rent action movies for Roger Corman, went on to direct the excellent Devil in a Blue Dress. Co-star and co-screenwriter Thornton went on to write, direct and star in Sling Blade.

We're still talking about One False Move today not only because Siskel & Ebert called attention to it, but also because Franklin was one of the few Black filmmakers working at the time. While most others were making movies about Blackness, like Boyz N the Hood and Menace II Society, Franklin's film was mixed-race, with very little attention called to that fact. It's a film about storytelling, characters, and mood, and in its way, it goes on to say more about the tragedies and inequalities of life than an issue-driven film could. In 2023, the Criterion Collection gave this film a much-deserved release on Blu-ray and 4K. (The 4K set comes with bonus Blu-ray discs.) As I have not yet upgraded to 4K, I viewed the Blu-ray and found it magnificent, both in terms of audio and video. It includes a commentary track by Franklin, recorded in 1999 for the DVD release (which is fortunately still available, since Criterion did not include a DVD option for this title). There's a new, fascinating sit-down conversation with Franklin and Thornton, which is fun and revealing. Other bonuses include a trailer and optional subtitles. Author William Boyle provides the liner notes essay. Highly Recommended.

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