“Beyond the Reach” works best when it focuses on a deadly cat-and-mouse game between its two contrasting main characters. While one ruthlessly pushes the other into an extreme condition, it is compelling to watch both of them trying to outwit each other in their dangerous situation, and that is why it is disappointing that the movie comes to lose most of its tension during its last minutes.
Jeremy Irvine, who has been more notable since his breakout performance in Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” (2011), plays Ben, a taciturn young guy who works as a guide/deputy sheriff in a remote rural town near the Mojave Desert. Since his longtime girlfriend Laina (Hanna Mangan-Lawrence) recently left him for her college education, he has been rather dismal and detached, and he is reluctant when he is asked to guide for a man who has just arrived in the town for his hunt.
As shown from his $500,000 vehicle and an expensive European rifle he is going to use for his hunt, John Madec (Michael Douglas) is a very rich business man, and you can clearly see that he is a guy who always gets what he wants by any means necessary. While being eager to hunt a big game which will be his trophy to brandish, he often talks with his business partners via his satellite phone for some important business deal, and Douglas brings both slick charm and steely intensity to his character who is probably not so far from Gordon Gekko, his Oscar-winning role in “Wall Street” (1987).
Although Ben does not like his client much, the awkward mood between them is quickly loosened after John’s funny attempt to break the ice during their drive to the Mojave Desert. As they spend their first night in the wilderness, the mood becomes a bit friendlier, and Ben comes to tell John a couple of things about his personal life, though there is still a gap between these two guys from different classes.
When they wake up early in the next morning, it seems everything will go smoothly during their hunting time, but then a very serious incident happens because of John’s hurried judgment. Devastated by what has just happened, Ben thinks they must report this to the town sheriff, John cannot allow this problem to jeopardize the ongoing process of his business deal, so he thinks of the other way. They can cover up this incident because nobody witnessed it besides them, and, of course, he can pay enough money Ben for keeping his mouth shut.
To a poor guy like Ben, that is surely a tempting offer he cannot easily refuse, but then he finds himself becoming a target in the middle of the vast desert field. To make the matters worse, he is forced to be stripped of most of his clothes and his shoes while being constantly followed by John’s vehicle. He may avoid John’s rifle for a while, but he will be driven to certain death as scorched and dehydrated in the desert, unless he tries as much as possible to earn any slight chance for his survival.
As Ben is cornered more by John’s sadistic pursuit as well as his increasingly exhausting circumstance, the movie effectively builds up suspense under the taut direction by Jean-Baptiste Léonetti. While wonderfully capturing the harsh beauty of barren landscapes on the screen, the cinematographer Russell Carpenter gives us the vivid sense of not only the searing sunlight from the sky but also the simmering heat on the field, and we cannot help notice how Ben begins to look worse and worse with many scars and burns on his reddened body as he struggles through many grueling hours under the glaring sun.
The movie depends a lot on its two main actors who have to carry their movie together for most of the running time. While less showy compared to his co-star, Jeremy Irvine diligently puts himself into a number of physically demanding scenes in the film. Although we do not know much about Ben except his strained relationship with his girlfriend, we come to root for this ordinary working class lad as he faces more plights to test his will and strength, and Irvine looks believable in his character’s desperate attempts for survival.
On the opposite, Michael Douglas has lots of fun with his juicy villain character who will not mind getting extra entertainment from getting rid of an annoying problem standing on his way. As relentlessly going after Ben, John casually enjoys all the comfort and leisure he can get from his luxurious vehicle equipped with many things including minibar and coffee brewing machine, and he does not even try to hide that while Ben toils in the most hellish moment in his life. In the other words, John is your average 1% guy to despise, and Douglas is entertaining to watch whenever his loathsome character cruelly reminds Ben of who has the upper hand in their situation.
Based on Robb White’s novel “Deathwatch”, “Beyond the Reach” is a slick thriller with nice suspenseful moments, but it eventually suffers what I call “the third act syndrome”. During its third act, the movie makes a contrived shift not long after a certain plot point where it could actually make a decent exit, and, to be frank with you, I do not believe at all what follows after that because of several unbelievable things to make your eyes roll for good reasons. This is a passable thriller film on the whole, but, considering its several good things to mention, you will probably enjoy it especially if other movies better than this are beyond your reach during your free time.