One False Move is the great little 90's neo-noir flick no one's ever heard of. Well, odds are a most of the readers of this blog have heard of it, but you're reading Rucka's Stumptown and Brubaker's Incognito. Let's do this one for the new folks.
Director Carl Franklin kicked in the doors to the big time with this dark thriller about, well, false moves. "False" in the sense of "poorly thought out". Bad choices.
It starts with a brutal -- and I mean, seriously, brutal -- murder during a drug heist*, a drug heist where killing people was a Very Bad Idea. The three people who committed the crime -- played by Michael Beach, a pre-Sling Blade Billy Bob Thornton, and Cynda Williams -- decide to hide out in the small town Cynda grew up in. A pre-pretty-much-everything Bill Paxton plays the garrolous, thoughtless small-town Sheriff swept up in a big city case, swept up in the chance to make the big leagues. All he has to do is babysit two LA cops while they wait for those killers to arrive in his town.
And the rest of the movie is waiting for all those characters to meet. Late in the third act.
I drove a hell of a lot as a stand-up comic. There's a moment, when you're driving on ice ... when you suddenly realize that you've turned the wheel a fraction too quickly. You start to skid.
It's not the fast, squealing scream of tires-on-asphalt. It's slow-motion, an endless, silent moment where the back end of the car's just ... floating away from you. Nothing you do can stop what's happening -- hell, whenever you touch the wheel to correct, the spin speeds up, shimmies, begins to hint at the violence of the impact to come.
All you can do is drift, somehow both pilot and passenger, waiting for the inevitable crash with growing dread, amazed at how you can see it all happening.
Now imagine that feeling lasting for 90 minutes.
That's One False Move. Beat after beat, the characters, when given a choice, make the wrong one. Sometimes those choices are obviously between good and evil. Sometimes they're between smart and dumb. Once, the moment is as innocuous as choosing between kindness and thoughtlessness. And with each false move -- including one that lay far, far in the past -- you can see the climax assembling. In this movie the Fates don't weave, they play dominos.
The more I think about it, the more attractive a little book about early 90s neo-noir becomes. Other people are far more qualified to write such a book, so I'd like them to get off the stick and produce one quickly so I can read it.
One False Move, streaming instantly on Netflix, is your weekend recommendation.
*There are quite a few people who bail at this sequence. Don't. It's a great movie, and what's more, the moment is honest. This is what death looks like in Crime World.