Bad ideas in Good People

Bad ideas in Good People
Director and actor James Franco.

Review Crime drama

GOOD PEOPLE (NC16)

90 minutes / Opens tomorrow / **½

The story: Tom and Kate Reed (James Franco and Kate Hudson) are cash-strapped American transplants in London, trying to patch up a decaying home bequeathed to Tom by a dead relative. A tenant living in their basement dies and in his room the couple find a stockpile of cash, possibly ill-gotten. As they work out which way their moral compass points, Scotland Yard's John Halden (Tom Wilkinson) shows up, asking tough questions.

This work attempts to marry a range of styles including cool Scandinavian-style suspense, American crime cinema and stylised Brit-gangster action to sell its key idea: a cautionary tale of how one poor decision can have terrible consequences.

None of these elements cohere, resulting in a chimera that feels under-paced in some sections and overwrought in others.

Firstly, there is the bizarre premise of an impoverished American couple living in England, with the man (Franco) trying to make a living as a building contractor.

Do they give out residency visas for that?

That awkward set-up feels very much like the result of studio deal-making, with parties such as European financiers and global distributors taking a stab at the production contract.

American stars Hudson and Franco would give the project a marketing hook, but moving the story to the United States, where it would have made more sense, was probably not on the books given the location-based tax breaks.

Danish director Henrik Ruben Genz comes to the film from the acclaimed political drama Borgen, working with a script based on a 2009 novel of the same title.

It would have been fine if the film had stayed low-key and televisual, relying on the cat- and-mouse played out between the couple, the detective and the gangsters who show up looking for the money, spiced up with occasional gunplay and general thuggish behaviour.

But, as commonly happens, the story inevitably builds up to a full-blown shootout in the finale, where all loose ends are tied up in a spray of bullets.

It is a move that can be found in horror films that climax when, in a literal sense, all hell breaks loose. Break out the buckets of blood and limb prosthetics.

Without giving too much away, the 1971 Straw Dogs-style denouement here, just like in the horror genre, comes along in a manner that could not have been more convenient, abrupt or patronising to the audience.


This article was first published on Oct 8, 2014.
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