A high-rolling corporate shark and his impoverished young guide play the most dangerous game during a hunting trip in the Mojave Desert.
"They're already frightened, that's why they're being hunted."
Sometimes it's best for a movie to keep its premise simple and allow for easy execution to bring the best elements of a story to the big screen. Sometimes a movie can be entirely too simple, so simple in fact that it paints itself into the difficult corner of losing the audience's attention very quickly. Sadly, 'Beyond The Reach' falls into the later to the point that a great performance from Michael Douglas can't salvage the final mess.
Life in a small desert New Mexico town can be quiet and dull, with few prospects. (Editor's Note: Yep. I grew up in this exact town.) Ben (Jeremy Irvine) works as a part time game guide for the town Sheriff (Ronny Cox). On the day that his lifelong girlfriend Laina (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) moves to Colorado to go to college, Ben has a job tossed his way to chauffeur billionaire businessmen Madec (Michael Douglas) deep into the desert to hunt bighorn sheep out of season. Armed with the latest outdoor gear, an expensive high powered rifle, and an off-road-ready Mercedes SUV, Madec has the look and feel of a first time game hunter, although he professes to have hunted all his life.
With more important things on his mind, Ben is entirely disinterested in Madec, his money, or his equipment, but that doesn't keep the rich and powerful man from trying to break through to the young man. After discovering a shared love for Pixar movies, the pair start to become friends and learn they actually have a thing or two in common beyond a shared interest in hunting. With the hot sun rising overhead, the two men head out into the desert making small talk and taking a few practice shots along the way.
As they stake out a ridge, a shadow appears over the horizon. Quick as a flash, Madec has his weapon aimed and fired before Ben even has a chance to blink. Once they summit the ridge, they learn the terrible truth that it wasn't a bighorn that was shot, but local eccentric Charlie (Martin Palmer) who lives a reclusive life out in the middle of nowhere. Both Ben and Madec are torn to pieces over the incident, but Madec quickly takes stock and assesses how much he stands to lose if this incident is discovered. It turns out Madec is in the process of selling his business to the Chinese and stands to make lose hundreds of millions of dollars if news of him killing a man in a hunting accident comes out.
To keep Ben from taking the body back to town, Madec offers the young man a devil's bargain to keep quiet - admission and a full four year scholarship to the same school as Laina, as well as a job once he's graduated with a starting salary of $300,000. Ben initially takes the deal, but breaks the hand shake contract once his conscience gets the better of him. In retaliation, Madec forces Ben to strip to his underwear and march through the open desert without any protection. Using Ben's rifle, Madec fires a second shot into Charlie's body setting Ben up for the crime and allowing him to make up any story he likes about Ben's erratic behavior. With the sun at his back and a high powered rifle pointed at the back of his head, Ben must use all of his desert skills and tracking abilities to outwit and overtake Madec before he dies from dehydration.
When you think of the sort of scenario laid out in 'Beyond The Reach' one can't help but think of movies like 'The Naked Prey,' or 'Apocalypto' or 'The Most Dangerous Game,' and as this film progresses you start to wish you were watching either of those films instead. Based on the novel "Deathwatch" by Robb White, this film feels like a half hour plot that is stretched an hour longer than is necessary. Apart from a few moments, scattered throughout, Ben really isn't a compelling character to follow. There's not much reason for him to stay in the town he lives in, let alone not follow his girlfriend to school where he'd have a chance to make a life for himself. Jeremy Irvine does well enough to make the most of the part, but he's given very little to do other than wander around in the sun. Since Ben isn't all that interesting, we're left with Madec. While Michael Douglas does well enough as the villain, he's basically playing Gordon Gekko but with a high-powered rifle and camping equipment. It's fun watching the man be evil and sinister, but after awhile his antics, much like Ben's wandering, get genuinely tiresome.
What really hurts this movie is the fact you can see a number of the setups coming from a mile off. Since the audience is ahead of the game for 90% of the movie, there are few surprises and even less suspense to enjoy. In fact the only real surprises come at the end of the film, but not in a good way. In fact the conclusion is so ludicrous it feels like it was a desperately added ten minutes because of possible test audience backlash. I can't feature any reason for this film to end as stupidly as it does. The worst part of a movie like 'Beyond The Reach' is the fact that it starts out very strongly, takes ample time to fit in a bit of character development and then completely squanders it. I'm having an incredibly hard time thinking of a film that goes from interesting and exciting to completely uninteresting and unsatisfying so quickly. And it's a shame, Douglas was actually pretty good in this. At least we have 'Ant-Man' this July to get another shot at a fun turn from Michael Douglas.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Beyond The Reach' is brought to Blu-ray thanks to Lionsgate. Pressed on a BD25 disc, the disc is housed in a eco case and comes with an Ultraviolet Digital Copy code. The disc opens to trailers for 'The Homesman,' 'Basic Instinct,' 'Cymbeline,' 'Maggie,' and Epix movie service before reaching the main menu.
'Beyond The Reach' gets an absolutely stunning 2.40:1 1080p HD transfer. The desert vistas are gorgeous and they're fully realized in every frame to the very finest detail. Wide shots, mediums, close ups - they all look amazing. A lot of the fun of this transfer is the makeup, as Ben spends more time out in the sun his skin turns red and blisters and the sharp and impressive transfer doesn't betray the effects. Likewise colors enjoy a lot of life considering the tan and yellow scenery. Reds get their brief moments to shine and the bright blue skye is a sight to see. Just as impressive are the black levels and shadows. Considering so much of the film is bright and fully lit by an apparent noon sun, there is still a pleasant amount of depth and three dimensional pop to enjoy. Things get a bit flat during night shots and some crush can sneak in here and there, but otherwise it remains a very impressive looking presentation.
For a quiet thriller I wasn't expecting much power out of a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix, but 'Beyond the Reach' is actually pleasantly surprising in this department. Imaging gets a subtle but impactful workout with this mix. When things are quiet, there is just enough background atmosphere and whistling winds to give the mix real presence, when action picks up there is tons of movement through the channels allowing for an effective echoing effect as the souped-up SUV roars through the canyon. Levels are nice and even allowing to dialogue to come through with crystal clarity without any intrusion from the score or sound effects. The mix is at its best when the scenes are in tight quarters allowing the slightest footfall sound amazing.
Audio Commentary: Actor/Producer Michael Douglas, Producer Robert Mitas, and Director Jean-Baptiste Leonetti discuss the production, shooting in the desert, and adapting the novel. The commentary gets a little odd as it suddenly drifts away from being scene specific and just talks trivia and Douglas is noticeably silent, almost like all three were in the same room together at one point but then recorded separately.
The Making Of Beyond The Reach: (HD 12:02) Cast and crew talk about the production, influences of the film and the source material.
Six Wheeling: Inside And Outside The Ultimate Ride: (HD 10:27) A look at Madec's G63 6x6 SUV - less a piece about the role the vehicle plays in the film but more of an extended promotional spot for the vehicle from Mercedes Benz. This almost makes it seem like the entire film was made to advertise this SUV.
Considering how this film was dumped in just a handful of theaters before arriving on Blu-ray, I shouldn't really have been surprised by the outcome, but I did expect better. The film starts out well enough, sets things up nicely but completely falls apart long before the ridiculous ending. The A/V quality is fantastic, and the smattering of extra features are enough to make this disc at least worth a rental, if for nothing else than to see Michael Douglas play a bad guy.