Good People (2014)
Editor’s Note: Good People opens in limited release on September 26th.
The very existence of Good People is confusing. Its cast list is populated with a slew of demographic pleasing names. Kate Hudson for the romantic comedy lovers, Tom Wilkinson for the adults, Omar Sy for the Europeans, and James Franco for everything else. On top of that, it’s the English language debut of Danish director Henrik Ruben Genz, and penned by Snowpiercer co-writer Kelly Masterson. In writing this opening paragraph I cannot help but notice just how scattered this all sounds. So let this be a lesson, when the very credits of a film leave you quizzically attempting to understand how all of this could have possibly come together, you are right to be concerned.
Do we have a name for films where civilians stumble into larger criminal plots? Accidental crime? Fish-out-of-water-into-hell? Regardless of the proper label, Good People resides squarely in this field of the unassuming law abider’s happenstance journey into crime. Tom (James Franco) and Anna (Kate Hudson) are our “good people”, American transplants who can’t seem to catch a break. Tom’s business failed, his bequeathed house is a money pit, and Anna just can’t get pregnant. After discovering that their basement tenant has died, while sorting through his belongings they happen upon a big ol’ bag o’ money. Despite a nosy police officer with a secret agenda, Tom and Anna quietly stash away the money. But as found money often does, it comes with a dark history, and Tom and Anna’s world gets rocked when the rightful owner comes knocking.
The greater issue is perhaps the void of common sense that seems to inhabit the entirety of the characters within this world.
Good People is achingly formulaic. What you expect to happen certainly will, and despite the film’s greatest attempt to surprise, the turns are always heavily broadcasted. The greater issue is perhaps the void of common sense that seems to inhabit the entirety of the characters within this world. I fully understand that Tom and Anna are on hard times, partially because the film beats this horse well past the point of its death, however that does not explain the extent to which they directly put themselves in harm’s way. Tom is easily the more desperate of the two, with Anna bringing a modicum of levelheadedness. So to see Tom quickly embrace this free money as some miraculous gift possessing no strings isn’t that outlandish. Anna, however, shows restraint and concern upon finding the money. She behaves rationally and flirts with the notion that the money may be tainted. Nevertheless, as the plot of the film encroaches, her initial sensibilities are abandoned and she joins Tom in a big group hug with the bag of money.
The “good people” of this film are not the only ones to succumb to this absence of logic. Tom Wilkinson’s police officer may be one of the worst at actual detective work. His actions possess no subtlety of motivation, being completely defined by the loss of his daughter. Yet even here the dots strain for connection. Sure Tom and Anna are perhaps the least convincing of liars, but to assume that they are somehow involved in a greater drug trade is just blind gullibility. The criminals are no better, completely driven by a desire for money and a bit of masochism. In fact, outside of Wilkinson, every character is primarily driven by money. I somewhat hoped for a version of the film that went as follows:
Franco: We have no money. We need money.
British Bad Guy: Where’s my money?
French Bad Guy: You took my money!
Wilkinson: I miss my daughter…
Hudson: We need so much money…also, I want a baby.
At least that would’ve been more to the point.
It seems almost unfair to fault this film so greatly for being little more than forgettable direct-to-DVD level fare, but that is because it has some true promise. Henrik Ruben Genz is an interesting director, and his previous Terribly Happy showed an artist that could gradually and effectively build mood. It was complicated and messy in an authentic way that drew you in. Likewise, writer Kelly Masterson exercised much more creativity in not only Snowpiercer but also the potentially generic Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Even as the film opens, it is constructed in a manner that speaks much more to Genz’s previous body of work. Rather than dumping us directly into the violence, we sit outside, waiting, with only the far off sounds of discord hinting at what is happening. It is the scene of a far better film, and the fact that it all just kind of falls apart afterwards is more than disappointing.
The characters are written incompletely, possessing seemingly unshakable principles that get shook with little more than a light breeze.
Good People spends so much time setting things up, only to then ignore its efforts completely. The characters are written incompletely, possessing seemingly unshakable principles that get shook with little more than a light breeze. Additionally, despite its limited cast, many of the characters are largely unnecessary. Omar Sy’s honorable French kingpin flits in and out of the story with little relevance; to lift him out of the film entirely would have no great effect on the plot. An even greater offender is Anna Friel, whose role as a pawn may as well be printed on her clothing. As the film limped to its conclusion, I had hopes that it would lead to some kind of uber-violent Home Alone 2-esque ending, in which Tom and Anna utilize their degrading mansion for the ultimate in criminal booby-traps. I should’ve known better. If Good People is good at anything in particular it is at letting the audience down. It is an exercise in disappointment.
If Good People is good at anything in particular it is at letting the audience down. It is an exercise in disappointment.