A professional tracker named Ben (Jeremy Irvine) is hired to escort the wealthy trophy hunter John Madec (Michael Douglas) out to the New Mexico wilderness to hunt for endangered bighorn. When an over-eager Madec accidentally shoots a prospector dead, he tries to buy his way out of trouble. When Ben refuses to play along, Madec forces him to strip half-naked and hunts him across the desert instead.
There is an admirable intent behind Beyond the Reach, a 2014 thriller directed by Jean-Baptiste Léonetti. It aspires to be a sharp, stripped-back survival thriller, pitting an unarmed young tracker against a heavily armed and well-equipped murderous tycoon. In the film’s earlier scenes it absolutely manages to be that thriller. It benefits from strong casting as well, particularly with Michael Douglas playing a fresh variation of his well-rehearsed unsympathetic businessman role. In the end, however, there simply is not enough meat on the bones of this particular bighorn, and efforts to vary the action result in the film feeling more unbelievable than suspenseful.
Regardless of the screenplay’s merit, it is always entertaining to see Michael Douglas on screen. He is a tremendous – and often tremendously underrated – performer, and brings a huge amount of charisma to Beyond the Reach. Madec is an unlikeable person from his first scene, and in the hands of a lesser performer he would be a tediously unwatchable villain. In Douglas’ hands he is marvellous: arrogant, spiteful, and despite all the story drawbacks is hugely enjoyable. He is very much the ‘man you like to hate’.
Jeremy Irvine does a solid performance as the terrified and desperate Ben. It is a much less showy part than Douglas’, without any flourishes or eccentricities. He is readily identifiable and likeable, and easy to cheer on. Ronny Cox appears in a small, functional role as a town sheriff, but for the bulk of the film it is essentially a two-hander.
That is simultaneously the film’s greatest strength and weakness. It begins promisingly: when Madec’s blunt attempts to bribe his way out of trouble fail, he holds Ben at gunpoint, has him strip to his underwear and forces him out into the desert. Madec stays a safe distance behind in his elaborately fitted off-road vehicle, and takes the odd pot-shot with his high-powered rifle when Ben looks to be slowing down or looking to escape. Escape he does, leading to a desert-set game of cat and mouse.
The premise is tremendous: the big game hunter tracking human prey, and the one unarmed, ill-equipped quarry desperately finding ways to stay alive and to turn the tables. For a while it does work relatively well, but before long the events and coincidences stack up and suspension of disbelief is broken. By the film’s entirely unnecessary double-climax it feels like the worst kind of direct-to-video production. There is simply not enough logic or motivation to explain the film’s second half, and it completely destroys the relatively promising work undertaken in the first.
It is a deep shame; Michael Douglas really is entertaining.