Rex (Cliff Robertson) has seen combat in the forces, as have his four friends he now likes to go hunting with of a weekend. Although their wars are behind them, they are still active in the National Guard, and while they would never admit it to one another, would love another opportunity to shoot an enemy. That won't happen these days, so the killing of deer and rabbit from their cabin in the forest has to do, and they do appreciate the chance to socialise. That is until today, when they spend a whole day after getting up early in the morning seeking in vain for game - though they find something far more dangerous.
When Deliverance was released back in 1972, many actors were jealous of the stars to have secured such plum roles, and yearned for something similar themselves, with all those deep themes of survival, justice and the limits of civilisation, not to mention a selection of characters an actor could really get their teeth into. Thus a few copycats appeared, but none of them made anything like the impact the John Boorman outdoors epic did, and so it was with Shoot, directed by Canadian television veteran Harvey Hart who occasionally dabbled in big screen excursions. Nobody paid much attention to it, dismissing it as another derivative effort and a Canadian tax shelter movie to boot, but there was more to it than that.
Certainly that Deliverance contemplation of exactly how civilised you were when push came to shove was to the fore, but the screenplay, based on Douglas Fairbairn's novel, had more of an agenda and that was about how much you could claim to be a law abiding member of society if you insisted on carrying guns. Now, these men we follow have the reasonable excuse that they're hunting, and in their day job they have to handle weapons as a matter of course, but here we begin to wonder if they are not a shade too keen on those firearms and if it's only a matter of time before someone gets hurt. Actually, we don't have long to ponder this as ten minutes in the group are on their trip to the woods and happen to encounter another band of hunters.
What happens next is worrying: instead of greeting likeminded individuals they stand and stare at one another, warily holding their rifles, until suddenly one of the opposite group opens fire, grazing the temple of one of Rex's buddies. You can guess what happens next, a gun battle which sees the man who shot the buddy get a bullet between the eyes until they retreat with gunfire ringing in their ears. From that outburst of violence, things then change gear to a far lower key as Rex and company decide they'd better not go to the police, and rather make sure that nobody is pursuing them, legally or - more pertinently - illegally, meaning that no one is out to avenge the death. Well, that's not quite true, as there is one man willing to stand up to Rex, and he's Lou, played by Ernest Borgnine as the voice of conscience.
Even the voice of sanity, for if they'd followed Lou's advice they would have been on a lot safer ground. Borgnine worked well to put up a convincing case against the grim, beastlike logic of Robertson's Rex, and as far as drama went their scenes together were the best in the movie, which was just as well as there was a long stretch of near-indigestible talk otherwise taking up the substantial middle section of the film, which included Kate Reid acting prickly as the drunken widow, and Helen Shaver as Rex's wife failing to put a case for their marriage. Basically he's terminally bored of civilian life therefore when landing in a situation which could be ideally resolved with the law, he prefers the law of the bullet and begins to assemble a personal army to go up against what he believes are the rival hunters who he wants to be prepared for should their paths cross again. We don't know if he's paranoid, or if those others will be as morally corrupt as he is, but the ending where we find out is undeniably memorable. Not consistently effective then, but with interesting elements. Music by Doug Riley.