The division between deranged villainy and complete buffoonery is a fine one. As bloodthirsty, silver-tongued businessman John Madec in French director Jean-Baptiste Léonetti’s Beyond the Reach (2014), Michael Douglas tramples all over the line drawn in the Mojave desert sand as a maniacal caricature of Gordon Gekko toting a high-calibre Austrian rifle. Based on the 1972 novel Deathwatch by Robb White, Léonetti’s film could have occurred any time since and in any barren, unforgiving landscape.
Pulling into Middle of Nowhere-ville in his custom built Mercedes six-wheeler Madec pays off the local sheriff to bodge the paperwork needed to hunt bighorn sheep. His guide for the excursion is orphaned local lad, Ben (Jeremy Irvine – whose ripped torso should probably be given screen credit). His childhood sweetheart departs for college in the opening minutes which is very sad. Sullen and lovelorn, his intimate knowledge of the terrain will be put to the test after the accidental shooting of a grizzly old prospector pits his renowned Bear Grylls skills against the gizmos and gadgetry of Madec’s mobile death machine, the younger man becoming human prey.
The SUV naturally also has an espresso machine, toaster oven and cocktail bar. The image of Douglas in cowboy hat and canary yellow sunglasses mixing a Martini while keeping an eye on Ben – naked but for his skivvies at the behest of the hunter – as he stumbles around in 120 degree heat is laughably pretentious. Meant to add an air of dark humour and preposterous eccentricity to his madness, these moments only detract from any real tension being developed. Cinematographer Russell Carpenter does well with the stunning surroundings, creating dizzying and disorientating shots of the sun as Ben’s dehydration and sunstroke takes hold. It is unfortunate that Stephen Susco’s adaptation of the White novel shows such little respect for the setting and Léonetti’s direction seems content in placing Douglas on an unwarranted pedestal. As Madec and Ben arrive to ‘The Reach’ they marvel at a breathtaking panorama only to then proceed to pull down their flies and urinate.
Like its protagonist, Beyond the Reach is truly obnoxious in places. Eye-rollingly bad script clangers include Madec crying, “Fool me once, shame on you, Fool me twice, I kill you!” but the oddest moment of the film comes early on when the unlikely buddies are chatting en route. Passing a slowly rising and falling oil pump, the elder man says “Waaalll-E”, mimicking the pint- sized robot. Ben initially feels as awkward as a viewer before responding “Eeeva”. They both love Pixar. Is this the beginning of a lifelong friendship? There’s nothing quite like male-bonding by quoting children’s animated movies. Quoting Woody would have been more apt but in either case, it’s inexcusably stupid. As things descend into real lunacy in the closing stages it becomes clear that what could have been a menacing and thrilling tale of rich man vs. poor man, city slicker vs. country lad, man vs. nature has unfortunately been reduced to a sadomasochistic advert for better gun control and skin cancer prevention. Even with a top of the range scope, it doesn’t get near its intended target.
Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens