Thursday, 6 November 2014

No Good Deed

Now that's an episode of "Luther" I would like to see.

"No Good Deed", directed by Sam Miller, stars Idris Elba as Colin Evans, a sociopathic mass murderer who escapes from prison and turns up on the doorstep of a young mother played by Taraji P. Henson. What follows is a clever thriller, very focused on Elbas haunting performance.

The life of a malign narcissist must be a hard one... an old guy tells on you during an appeal hearing, the families of your victims go on record with their story of how bad a person you are and you have to kill the only person that believed in you in order to escape from prison. That's the first five minutes of this movie. Rough stuff, a really good first act. We get to know our two main characters (obviously, Terrys introduction isn't quite as spectacular, hinting at problems in her marriage and establishing that she will be home alone with the kids for the night) and the plot swiftly puts them on opposite sides of a door in a heavy storm.

Now, this movie might not be perfect, you might say that the strong focus on Idris Elbas character leaves the supporting cast to be painted with a broader stroke than one might hope for, you might say that it doesn't show too many original ideas. But what it does, it does extremely well. That is, a great performance by Idris Elba, and to a lesser extent, Henson, who really does a lot with what little she is given, and a great second act.

The whole idea of a crazy killer coming into an
innocent persons home is not new. Yet, it works well for two reasons. First, while Colin Evans might be a cold-blooded killer and his creepiness on a completely different level from what you might know, he is also extremely smart, which makes the audience wonder: "Does he have any reason to inflict any sort of harm on this family? Not that I know of... Maybe he will just leave." This line of thinking seems pretty improbable since we are clearly in a thriller, and those don't usually end with a thank you and a mechanic picking our guy up to get his car fixed. But Elbas performance and the smart script keep the possibility open. The writers found a range of different scenarios to extract tension from this premise, which is exactly what a second act is supposed to do. It's the meat of the movie, the time in which you take your premise and find as much entertainment in it as you can. "No Good Deed" does so in a lot of different ways.

Elba gets all the help he can get in portraying the ultimate creep, be it the use of sound, the cinematography, his framing or cutbacks to his immediate past. This might seem heavy handed at times, but it never took me out of the movie.

Also, the house is a great piece of scenery. It provides more than just a backdrop, it is used to it's full potential in all its details. Most of the things you see set up some later scene, in a way that either makes you anticipate it when you first glimpse the kitchen-knives or in a surprising capacity.

Now, as I said, the movie is not completely perfect, and its reception has been mixed, because it's supporting characters are not very complex. And as is so often the case after a great second act, the finale cannot quite fulfill the promise, giving us a twist that was ultimately unneccessary and feels more like observing the conventions than an actually inspired idea. Finally, there is a change of location that I thought would hurt the movie, as it used the house so perfectly, but turned out to be okay.

One specific piece of writing, or better the lack thereof, deserves special mention. The clichéed scene that I was dreading, a character turning on the TV to immediately see the news playing a report on our man, was completely absent and in its place a wonderful replacement that I won't spoil.

All in all, I loved this movie for what it was. A straight forward thriller that puts all its weight behind its lead actor and is aided greatly by a smart script.

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