‘Beyond the Reach’: Social Darwinism on steroids

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For Digital First Media

Back in 1987, Oliver Stone made “Wall Street,” his anti-capitalist screed. The film starred Michael Douglas as avaricious businessman, Gordon Gekko. He lived by the mantra, “Greed is good.”

Imagine Gekko, nearly three decades older, armed with a high-power rifle, and transported from Gotham to the wilds of New Mexico. You’d have Madec, the sleazy villain of “Beyond the Reach.”

As the film begins, Ben (Jeremy Irvine) awakens from an extremely realistic  nightmare. In it, he had been running though the desert, shoeless, sockless, and wearing only his underpants.

It’s just in time for Ben to bid a bittersweet farewell to his long-time sweetheart. Laina (Hanna Mangan-Lawrence). The couple have grown up together in a small New Mexico town. They seem to be extremely compatible. However, now Laina has a full athletic scholarship to attend college in Denver. Ben has decided to stay behind, continuing the family tradition of doing tracking and rescue work.

Ben receives a phone call from the town’s sheriff (Ronny Cox). He advises Ben that a potential client has arrived in town. The visitor, Madec (Michael Douglas), is a mega-successful corporate warrior.  Madec needs someone, who is familiar with the local geography to serve as his guide. The area, nicknamed, “The Reach,” is a particularly harsh section of the Mojave desert.

As soon as Ben arrives, Madec launches into insufferable braggadocio. He brays that his customized truck was imported and cost $500,000. It is the only one of its type in the United States.

An avid hunter, Madec already has acquired elephant tusks and rhino horns. What domestic species would be a perfect addition to his trophy collection? Have you ever seen the outsized horns of the appropriately named bighorn sheep? Weighing up to 30 pounds, they are striking. No wonder Madec wants to nab a pair of them.

There is only one problem – bighorn sheep are carefully protected. Once their population in the United States had exceeded two million. However, by 1900, they had been decimated by aggressive hunting.  Their number had been reduced to several thousand. To prevent extinction, the species became carefully protected.

Madec cavils that he has waited ten years to obtain a hunting permit. When Ben cites the fact that the hunting season for bighorn sheep has not even begun, the sheriff contends that Madec has obtained a special exemption. Has Madec bribed the sheriff to look the other way?

Ben is clearly troubled by what is going on. However, Madec is willing to pay Ben $1,000 per diem for his services. At that rate of remuneration, the impecunious Ben begrudgingly agrees to participate.

As soon as they arrive at the desert basin, Madec detects some motion on a nearby cliff. Blinded by the sun glare, he cannot clearly make out what has caused it. Undaunted, the trigger happy hunter shoots.

When Ben and Madec arrive at the scene of the shooting, they receive an unpleasant surprise. Madec has accidentally killed Charlie (Martin Palmer picking up a payday for playing a corpse), a grizzled prospector. Ever since Ben was a boy, he has known Charlie and is quite fond of the old coot.

There’s a complication. Madec is on the cusp of closing a sensitive deal with a  foreign  company. Madec realizes that if there is a whiff of scandal about manslaughter charges, the negotiations may go haywire.

Eager to avoid criminal prosecution, Madec offers Ben a bribe to participate in a cover-up. However, Ben steadfastly refuses to collude with Madec. At gunpoint, Madec forces Ben to strip down to his skivvies, while removing his shoes, socks, and shirt. Now, Ben is dispatched into the desert. Ben supplants bighorn sheep as the target of Madec’s predations. What chance does Ben have to survive?

The film is adapted from “Deathwatch,” a 1972 novel by Robb White. It previously served as the inspiration for an ABC Movie of the Week, titled “Savages.” That antecedent version starred Andy Griffith as the businessman and Sam Bottoms as his beleaguered guide. You may recall Griffith as the kindly sheriff on the television series, “Mayberry R.F.D.” His role in “Savages” represented a startling deviation from his well-established image.

Michael Douglas glowers deliciously with amoral zeal. He convincingly essays a conspicuously wealthy man, who has clawed his way through the corporate jungle to the reach the top tier of the business world.  Now, he is pitted against a virtuous young man, who must deploy his considerable survival skills to elude a deranged hunter.

The new screenplay by Stephen Susco reprises the original storyline without any major revisions. Director, Jean-Baptiste Leonetti, does an adequate job in the helm. The film benefits from the stunning southwestern setting, well captured by cinematographer, Russell Carpenter. The score by Dickon Hinchliffe offers a nice touch in setting the mood.

“Beyond the Reach” pales in comparison with top films from the survivalist genre. However, it infuses an acute sense of class consciousness into the traditional formulation.

“Beyond the Reach” offers a sobering depiction of Social Darwinism on steroids.

** ½ R (for some violence) 95 minutes. Roadside Attractions

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.


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