Mention Bill Paxton and most people will think of his role in Aliens in which he was the outrageous Marine Private Hudson. His roles throughout the 1980s had him playing goofy or obnoxious characters in Weird Science and Predator 2.
And that’s the way he was heading going into the 1990s until he was cast in a low-budget gritty crime drama called One False Move. It had a budget of $2.5 million and was lucky to get that much. Originally scheduled for the home video market and the wasteland of cable late-night channels, the filmmakers were able to round up some money to get the movie released and in film festivals where it ended up on the Best-Of lists of all the big film critics. Billy Bob Thornton, who was a lowly aspiring actor at the time who appears here as the sadistic but foolish Ray Malcolm also co-wrote the script. He later credits Siskel & Ebert for praising the movie as well as helping boost his career.
The movie begins in the predominantly black neighborhoods of Los Angeles as Malcolm, his girlfriend Fantasia (Cynda Williams), and Pluto (Michael Beach) break into what is an unsuspecting birthday party and kill all inhabitants in the home as well as another nearby house and steal some cocaine. But Fantasia notices a young boy in the second home and lets him live.
LAPD detectives Cole and McFeely (Jim Metzler and Earl Billings) are assigned to it. They overhear in a video camera that Fantasia was supposed to be on her way to Star City, Ark. So, they contact the local police where the police chief, Dale “Hurricane” Dixon (Paxton), is more than thrilled to finally be working on a big case.
Dale or Hurricane, as he’s called is one of those guys you find in a lot of small and rural towns. He got the nickname because of some sports he played in his youth probably, but was never too good to get a scholarship to the big schools. So, he marries a young woman he went to school with or grew up with and starts a family. He takes the local police officer job because no one else wants to be busting shoplifters or dealing with domestic disputes.
Since a child was left alive and there is a home video footage, Malcolm, Fantasia and Pluto find themselves on the run from law enforcement as they’re on their way to Houston to sell the cocaine for a big score that doesn’t come through. Thinking since Malcolm and Fantasia are originally from that area and they might head toward Star City, Cole and McFeely head there to stake out her parents’ home. They also notice that Hurricane views the case with just a little too much excitement than he should.
They also discover that Hurricane and Fantasia whose real name was Lila when she lived in Star City have a previous history. Even though he’s happily married and has a daughter, Fantasia/Lila has a son herself, Byron, who was the result of an affair she had with Hurricane.
Directed by Carl Franklin, a black actor, the movie touches on the issues of race in America 30 years ago that still seems relevant today. Fantasia and Pluto are black. Malcolm is white. Hurricane seems to talk easier to Cole than to McFeely, who is black, and often calls him the wrong name. McFeely is also quick to know there’s more between Hurricane and Fantasia/Lila than him arresting her for shoplifting make-up from the local drug store. During a cookout with Hurricane’s family, Hurricane drops the N-word when referring to Pluto and Fantasia/Lila while McFeely laughs it off.
Later, Hurricane overhears Cole and McFeely mocking him for thinking that this case will give him some attention so he can move to L.A. to be a cop there. One False Move is a movie about the contrast between city and rural attitudes as well as race relations. For a while, it seems Paxton is doing a variant of his Hudson role when he first interacts with Cole and McFeely with wild enthusiasm. But after hearing them mock him as just another Arkansas blumpkin, he feels hurt and you can see in Paxton’s face how bad he feels.
Naturally, this all leads to one big confrontation between Hurricane and Fantasia/Lila as Malcolm and Pluto do arrive at a rural home. I won’t give much away but Franklin films the brewing confrontation with so much tension that when it finally happens, it happens so fast, you feel a rush when it’s over.
One False Move and the rave reviews helped Paxton garner some better roles than what he was known for later in his career. He was cast in Apollo 13, Titanic and A Simple Plan, all of which were Oscar-nominated or winning movies. Ironically, Paxton never received a nomination, but his death occurred on this date, Feb. 25, 2017 the same day as the Oscars were held that year.
While most people remember him from Aliens, Twister or especially Titanic, One False Move was the moment he finally earned some respect and a reputation as an actor. And I mean, actor, not a performer. It’s a shame he wasn’t nominated, because it’s his best role.
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