Armed with a stellar cast and stylishly bleak cinematography, Henrik Ruben Genz’ Good People is let down by a run-of-the-mill script with nowhere to go.
Easy Moneyby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
After a successful career in Denmark directing for TV, including several episodes of The Killing as well as feature films, Henrik Ruben Genz makes his English language debut with Good People. And with a stellar cast including James Franco, Kate Hudson, Tom Wilkinson and Omar Sy, and an intriguing storyline of a down-on-their-luck couple who come unexpectedly into a big pile of cash (when the drug dealer they rent their basement to dies from an overdose) Genz’s film should by rights be better. Shallow Grave similarities aside (albeit without the wit, intelligence or charm), Good People reeks of a foreign-language director relocating what might well have worked in Copenhagen and in Danish to the badlands of London, without the good sense of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive to pare down the dialogue to a shiny bomber jacket, Ryan Gosling and a carburettor hum.
Gangster Jack Witkowski (Sam Spruell) and his gang are raiding a night club in East London, stealing both the money and the Liquid O from French new kid on the block Khan (Omar Sy). But when Ben kills Jack’s brother Bobby and escapes with the loot, all hell breaks loose. Meanwhile, schoolteacher Anna (Kate Hudson) looks after her goddaughter while pining for a child of her own, while boyfriend Tom (James Franco) is forced to stop renovating the house he inherited from his grandmother for want of cash. So when they discover their tenant dead in their basement flat, and a bag full of money hidden in the ceiling, their imaginations of what they could do with the loot soon run away with them. But it’s not long before Detective Inspector John Halden (Tom Wilkinson) comes knocking, and the gangsters aren’t far behind him.
Filmed in a stylish palette of muted greens and greys and starring a swanky cast from across the pond, Good People certainly has kerbside appeal. Even the backstory of Anna and Tom is well laid, a successful landscape architect from Chicago and his girlfriend who make the move to the UK following the banking crisis and the chance inheritance of a three-storey house in Mortlake. But like all of those yuppies-in-peril films, Good People can’t quite work out what to do with its supposably thought provoking premise. Despite only broad-stroke characterisation, Genz does his best to make us like them – they’re grafters in a rough patch who do all those things Hollywood would have us do, like have sushi nights when fertility levels are high or go running along the Thames. And besides, the dead man has no next of kin, and the gangsters are either police-corrupters or worse, French. So really, who wouldn’t take the money and run?
Well, perhaps when DI Halden threatens them with prison once he discovers they’ve been spending the money or when Tom gets beaten to a pulp by Jack, or when they’re shot at in Victoria Park. But no, for this plucky young couple, their dishonest endeavours are just what’s required to bring them closer together. And while their money-grubbing resilience isn’t exactly attractive, their new-found intimacy is enough to break down the boundaries that have kept them apart, even provoking a (successful) slice of hanky-panky outside of sushi-night, curiously suggesting – at the end of the film when Anna’s pregnancy test come backs positive – that their inability to procreate might have been psychosomatic. And this is the rather tenuous (and abrupt) learning at the centre of Good People – that Anna didn’t need the house that Tom buried himself away in. And so they’re reunited again and rewarded with a baby.
But by the end of Good People, it seems Henrik Ruben Genz has run out of steam – not quite sure what to do with his unlikely heroes. In a madcap Home Alone kind of denouement, the daring duo do manage to keep the gangsters at bay, but they’re not rewarded for their endeavours with the loot. Instead, they’re worse off than they were before – the house Tom inherited and invested money in burned to the ground, and the cash with it. They’re given only two wads of (legitimate) money from Halden, which – we’re left to assume – they use to return to the States, neither richer nor wiser. It’s a rather bathetic ending, which unmasks the problems at the core of Genz’s film – unable with this “universal” couple to conjure up the psychological dilemmas real people might face, nor explore the fallout of a relationship undermined by guilt going sour. Moody, but unable to get beneath the skin of its characters or the London crime scene, Henrik Ruben Genz’s Good People is unfortunately very much a misnomer – neither much about people nor very good.
Good People is released no 21st August 2015 in the UK