Producer: Suza Horvat   Director: John Barr   Screenplay: John Barr and Alan Petherick   Cast: Tom Berenger, Kristen Hager, Mark Sivertsen, Paul Ben-Victor, Jimmy LeBlanc, Bates Wilder, Brian Duffy and Erica McDermott   Distributor: Screen Media

Grade:  C-

You have to admire—and maybe pity—Tom Berenger for going through what must have been the grueling shoot that resulted in John Barr’s “Blood and Money,” especially since the movie proves to be a rather anemic thriller that, apart from the setting, is a terribly familiar cat-and-mouse chase.

Berenger plays Jim Reed, a grizzled old ex-Marine who devotes himself to hunting deer in the forest near the town of Allagash in northern Maine, located on the river of the same name (“Allagash” was, in fact, the movie’s original title).  He lives in a specialty camper that he drives into the forest and parks as he treks off with his rifle, aiming to bag a buck.  It’s never explained why this is so important to him; perhaps it’s merely some sort of Ahab complex on land.

Jim’s no recluse; he stops by ranger stations to find out what sections of the wilderness are open for shooting, and goes to the town diner regularly for breakfast, where he hobnobs with friendly waitress Debbie (Kristen Hager), who—he sighs—reminds him of his daughter.  He sometimes talks to the sheriff (Paul Ben-Victor), and has friends whom he can turn to when he shoots a doe (illegally, it seems) which he sells to them. 

But he’s ill, occasionally suffering from coughing fits in which he spits up blood; and his nights are lonely; eventually it’s revealed that he still grieves over his daughter, who was killed in a car crash for which he knows he was responsible.  He also attends AA meetings, indicating the source of his feelings of guilt.

The plot kicks in when Jim, tracking a buck he missed in their first encounter, shoots at barely perceptible movement in the distance and discovers, to his horror, that he’s hit a woman, who threatens him before bleeding out.  He runs away, leaving behind the body and the bag she was carrying.  It’s only later that he realizes that she was probably connected with a recent casino holdup and, returning to the spot the accident occurred, takes the money-stuffed bag. 

Of course, by then the dead woman’s cohorts are out looking for her, and the hunter becomes the hunted.   But Jim is resourceful despite his age, and although he in effect sacrifices another hunter who’s fallen into the hands of his pursuers, he eludes the robbers and actually picks them off one-by-one, until he faces off against their leader Ray (Mark Sivertsen), whose son he’s finished off execution-style.  In the long final sequence, Jim is forced to lead Ray to the cave where he’s hidden the money, but they don’t both get there.

The basic premise of the screenplay by cinematographer-turned-director John Barr and Alan Petherick—in which an innocent guy comes on a cache of gangsters’ money and tries to keep it—is hardly new.  Nor is the tactic of depicting the protagonist as an older, if seasoned, hunter especially unusual nowadays, Liam Neeson having turned the notion into a cottage industry.  Still, the idea of putting Berenger into the mix is not a bad one.  The actor brings memories of his old turns as a sharpshooter along with him, and though it’s hard to believe that the pretty decrepit fellow he’s playing could summon the strength to deal with a whole passel of villains one after another (even after a fall into the frigid Allagash River, he soldiers on), one can with some effort overcome the implausibility due to the actor’s sheer dedication.

There’s also some compensation in the depiction of Reed as a highly flawed character—not just in terms of his background, but his present actions.  He tries to escape the ramifications of his accidental killing of the woman—whom he doesn’t know to be a criminal, after all—and he deals awfully brutally with his pursuers.  They might be a dastardly bunch, but in many respects he descends to their level that the script’s effort to redeem him with an act of generosity at the close comes across as feeble.

No one else in the cast has much opportunity to shine; the other characters are no more than one-note sketches, though Hager makes Dollie pleasant enough and Sivertsen is a suitably odious villain.  And the craft credits are mostly mediocre, with Petherick’s production design no more than adequate, Roger Cropley’s editing pedestrian and Zak McNeil’s score forgettable.              

 But Barr’s cinematography uses the convincingly frigid background effectively, even if the action he stages within it is sometimes positively clumsy.   There’s no question that the film was shot in the region where it’s set, under conditions that can’t have been optimal. 

While one can respect all the effort that must have gone into making “Blood and Money,” however, the outcome doesn’t really justify it.