Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
Good People starts with a promising opening scene. The camera observes men watching a group of people arriving at a nightclub during the day. They’re preparing to rob the place, and more specifically take down Khan (Omar Sy), a drug kingpin that sells liquid heroin. They enter the club with the camera holding in dashboard view from the car, with the audience only hearing the gunshots and seeing one of the men sprint into the car and another get killed in front of the windshield. The remaining man drives off with the money and the story begins. It’s a compelling, well-shot introduction that hints at far more innovative storytelling than delivered. Instead, the narrative picks up with Tom Wright (James Franco), a handyman that’s struggling to make a significant living while a house he received from a family member enters foreclosure. These are trying times.
Anna (Kate Hudson), Tom’s wife, is a school teacher that’s struggling to get pregnant. Her sister is facing a dire financial situation and the family just seems to be in disarray. Lo and behold, Tom and Anna discover their tenant living in their basement (bear with the story) has been dead for days and that he was part of the aforementioned robbery at the beginning of the film. They find the money, an investigation begins, and they become entangled in the web of crime. The title refers to the two main characters that are decidedly good people, but do they remain good after they steal the money and must resort to deplorable actions in order to overcome their troubles? The couple are at the center of John Halden’s (Tom Wilkinson) investigation, who has been tracking Khan for years and isn’t as respected as he should be. He realizes that the opportunity could arise for them to work together and take down this man once and for all.
Crime thrillers need to instill themselves with a sense of urgency and inventiveness in order to be distinguishable from the norm. Good People decides that it needs the contrivances of the genre in order to tell its narrative, allowing the second half to fall into predictably bland territory. The story is thin and doesn’t provide much past the initial set-up, while characters are given ten minutes at the beginning to develop so that the rest of the film can move briskly. I could make a commercial about how thinly scripted the film is and frame the ad just like those paper towel ones to show how much better it can be. The film admittedly embraces its absurdities as it grows toward a remarkably violent, bloody conclusion that turns into a cat-and-mouse game within the foreclosed house. There’s a Saw-like feel to the kills and how callous the murders are, particularly when the central characters get brought into the mix.
The performances are committed and Hudson shines in a role that barely scratches at her potential as an actress. She has always struck me as a talented woman on screen that chooses empty roles, but every time she gets a semblance of development she makes an impression. Franco mostly looks bored with his work while Sy is delegated to strange, foreign villain that the story doesn’t need to develop. Wilkinson is the best performance of the bunch because he’s always wonderful; here, he elevates the minor material. Despite these shortcomings, there’s nothing exceptionally bad about Good People, which might hurt it even more. Running 81 minutes with very little momentum also shows the emaciated and confused nature of the narrative, particularly with the conclusion yielding a cheesy joke reminiscent of a heartwarming indie. The film unfortunately runs its course quickly and never finds its own style.
Grade: ★★ (out of 5)