Review: GOOD FOR NOTHING, Kiwi Western, Blazes Its Own Trail
Told with gusto, style, and respect, Good For Nothing displays a becoming modesty for an old-school Western that features a murdering, would-be rapist as a heroic character.
When it comes to Westerns, so many tropes have been etched into our collective cinematic memory that the biggest challenge facing modern filmmakers is deciding which stereotypes to celebrate, critique, satirize, and / or stand on end. Writer/director Mike Wallis has chosen wisely.
The male lead character is a man with no name. Unlike Clint Eastwood, however, this Man (Cohen Holloway) is not motivated by money or revenge; he's motivated by his penis, which fails to respond when he attempts to "poke" -- as he not so charmingly refers to rape -- an unwilling woman.
The female lead character is named Isabella Montgomery (Inge Rademeyer), a prim and proper young woman who hails from England. Her father has recently died, and she has come to live with her uncle on his ranch. Her uncle has sent two of his most trusted men to accompany her from the railroad to the ranch.
Along the way, they stop on a way station for a break, where they encounter the mysterious Man, who promptly kills several men, including Isabella's bodyguards, and steals her away for the purpose of having forced sexual intercourse with her. When he's unable to complete the act of 'poking' / 'raping' Isabella, he sets off in search of a cure.
Later, he reclaims Isabella after she's run away, killing more men in the process, notably a deputy sheriff whose brother, The Sheriff (Jon Pheloung), rounds up a posse to track down the murderer and the whore (as Isabella is mistakenly described).
As far as a story is concerned, that's about as complicated as it gets, and it's easy to anticipate the places the narrative will go -- making allowance for the Man's search for erectile dysfunction medication. The true pleasures in the film arise from John Psathat's rangy, guitar-driven musical score; Mathew Knight's clean and supple photography, which makes full use of the widescreen ratio; and Wallis' script and direction.
The Man proves to be, not so much a murdering rapist as a beastly creature moved by primal instincts. Ignorance is no excuse for rape, of course, but he's reflective of a brutal time in which uneducated, violent people scrapped for survival. Frankly, The Man doesn't know any better; he's never had anybody to teach him right from wrong. And his experience has taught him that he must shoot first -- and shoot to kill -- in order to survive. Likewise, he's moved to satisfy his carnal lusts in the most direct fashion available to him.
Spending time around the civilized Isabella, who conducts herself in a dignified manner no matter what, firmly resists his desire to 'poke' her, and doesn't browbeat him, teaches The Man a thing or two. His trigger-happy instinct for survival is not blunted, but he starts to see that, just maybe, his behavior around women should be modified. The Man may be ignorant, but he's open to education.
Subtle, sly humor is drawn from the way that individuals react to their particular circumstances. Wallis understands and respects the stereotypes, and gently highlights the foolishnes of the uber-macho behavior displayed by nearly all the men. Isabella's fish-out-of-water manners are also lightly mocked, but never in a mean-spirited way.
The movie rocks along, taking full advantage of the empty, gorgeous, and splendid New Zealand landscapes that easily pass for any Rocky Mountain terrain. The wide-open country appears to inspire Good For Nothing, which may be the first "Kiwi Western," yet never succumbs to the pretensions of mythology, content to provide zesty entertainment for about 90 minutes.
Good For Nothing opens in limited theatrical release in the U.S. on Friday, March 9.