Beyond the Reach is a victim of product placement and typecasting as a substitute for story-telling. When trophy hunter hobbyist and corporate 'fat-cat' Madec (Michael Douglas) buys a lucrative Mojave Desert bear permit he enlists the services of struggling guide Ben (Jeremy Irvine) to lead him to his prize. When a hasty shot results in the unfortunate death of another local hunter, Madec decides that a pending business deal is vastly more important than the lives of some backwater hicks and proceeds to frame Ben for the accident and drive him into the desert to his death. Michael Douglas most iconic role by far is Gordon 'greed is good' Gekko from Oliver Stone's Wall Street. The character of Madec seems to take an older more desperate Gekko with some of the hunter aptitude of other Douglas favourites, Colton from Romancing the Stone or Remington from The Ghost and the Darkness. Finally, the yuppie gets to join the dots to the hunter, the thing that no one, except Douglas felt the need to do. For a performer that's capable of such calculating subtlety and menace, he seems to have been directed to be louder, larger, and more overtly 'bad' than any other role that I can remember. He has the posture of a plantation owner, everyone is beneath him and HIS money can buy him anything.
Jeremy Irvine two previous biggest roles were the lead in Steven Spielberg's War Horse and Jonathan Teplitzky's The Railway Man. For corridors of War Horse and for the majority of The Railway Man Irvine's characters are put through some of the most mind bending physical torture and the actor does a phenomenal job of committing to dark and bleak places required to wrestle the audience into that blinding pain on the edge of consciousness. Beyond the Reach hires him exclusively for this particular skill. Irvine totally commits to enduring the brutal heat, bitter cold, and general removal of most of his clothes to be run and tracked to death. The pay off for those aforementioned characters is that you care about their journey, other than empathy for his torture typecasting it's a husk of a character.
There's an entire secondary plot of the film revolving around Ben's (Irvine) struggle with honouring the profession of his parents (emergency rescuers in the region who had passed away) and leaving small town life to follow his childhood love Laina (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) who is heading to college. Tonally every exchange is like a melancholy couple saying their final goodbyes because it hasn't worked more than a kid staying behind to honour his folks. There's no point in Stephen Susco's script, other than a fleeting sentence, that you get to see him get the news or grieve his parents. That's not to say that a film must have a prescriptive way of outlining that kind of story, but for the conflict to be real about leaving or staying there needs to be pros and cons.
Director Jean-Baptiste Léonetti's aesthetic is one of arid glare, heightening the abrasive desolation of the landscape. He gets up close and personal to Ben's trial, observing the searing sun's effects and the desert shale grating his bare feet. In these moments, his style totally suits the subject. However, Beyond the Reach, in many instances feels cheap. In flashbacks of the danger of the desert, altered colour filters and quick cutting is meant to enhance the already flimsy and stupid excuses of families leaving stranded vehicles in the middle of the day and getting sunburnt to death. In addition, for a film that makes such a fuss about hunting Mojave bears, there is not a single bear spotted at any time in the film, but there is one dodgy bear growl sound effect
Beyond the Reach is essentially a one hundred minute advertisement for the villain's utility vehicle. From the first scene you're introduced to Madec you're seeing his gigantic tank like vehicle, with every conceivable additional extra including an espresso machine. All we need is ad madewith a voice-over: Do you need some classical music to listen to while running of your victim into a desert? Have you felt the need to swill a martini while you're hunting man-flesh? Need some epic spot lights to light up a rocky outcropping he's hiding? We've got it all and MORE. Seriously poachers must have had to pause this film to masturbate and then do some research on this bad boy.
Beyond the Reach is a messy patchwork of potential, but the conclusion takes such a leap into the totally batshit that you're kind of left asking; 'what the hell did I just watch?!?'
Blake Howard- follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatmanand listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes
Directed by: Jean-Baptiste Léonetti
Written by: Stephen Susco (screenplay) based on Robb White's novel "Deathwatch"
Starring: Michael Douglas, Jeremy Irvine, Hanna Mangan Lawrence, Ronny Cox,
Michael Douglas ... Madec
Jeremy Irvine ... Ben
Ronny Cox ... The Sheriff
Hanna Mangan Lawrence ... Laina