REVIEW: Good For Nothing
(M) (92 min) Starring Cohen Holloway, Inge Rademeyer. Directed by Mike Wallis.
Sometime back mid-19th century, a beautiful young woman steps off a train at a one-mule town.
She is expecting to be met by family, but is taken aback to find only one scrofulous old sot with a broken-down trap waiting to carry her off to her new life on the plains.
But before much more film has rattled through the gate, guns have been drawn, men lie in pools of blood on a bar room's dirt floor, and our heroine is down to her biggish smalls, strapped unceremoniously to the back of a nag, and seemingly destined to live a short and brutish life as the plaything of a near-mute bandit.
It's a classic opening, lifted in parts from some of the most enduring Westerns ever made. Good for Nothing nods hard and respectfully at John Ford and Sergio Leone, and then heads off to its own unique, endearingly daft thing.
Shot in Central Otago, and funded mostly out of director and writer Mike Wallis and star Inge Rademeyer's own pockets, Good for Nothing is a film that no-one could have predicted.
It's a completely homegrown classic western, years in the making, and now carving its own charming groove on a big screen near you.
In the leads, Rademeyer might lack the fire to really pull off her gradual transformation from victim to something far darker and more to be respected, and to be fair, Wallis' writing has left a lot of her character waiting to be found in the white spaces between the lines of dialogue.
But Rademeyer still does well enough with a role that would have challenged even a hugely experienced campaigner.
Next to her, Cohen Holloway adds another line to a CV that will surely be his passport overseas any time he chooses to cash it in.
That one of the most gifted natural comics you'll ever meet can also dig up this near wordless, vicious, and then splendidly vulnerable characterisation is a delight.
Put his work here next to his award winning portrayal of David Dougherty in Until Proven Innocent, and compare.
Across two very different characters, there's the same watchfulness, the same quiet centre, the same sense of a great intelligence inadequately harnessed.
It's a rare quality Holloway has, and I hope someone either gives him a role in New Zealand soon that really pushes him to his limits, or that he gets on a plane and takes his chances.
Around these two, a support cast do what a support cast should, with Barnie Duncan's Mexican tracker the only real stand-out.
In fact, by far the most dominant support player in Good for Nothing isn't an actor, it's the extraordinary Central Otago landscapes. This is stunning land not seen enough on the big screen, and Mathew Knight's camera feasts on it.
The film betrays its low budget and limited technology in the underlit interior shots, but outside, this film glows.
(Note to digital film-makers: Do consider using good old 16 millimetre film for your night-time interiors. Unless you've got a fantastic lighting package, film still eats digital in those conditions.)
When you stand back and look at it dispassionately, Good for Nothing isn't a great film, but it has moments of indelible grandeur, and scenes that could have sat proudly in any of the films Wallis is paying homage to. At times it's a Western, and at times it's a very deft parody of one.
The mix is occasionally confusing, but just for the fact that this film exists, I'm impressed and grateful.
Go and see it, on the biggest screen you can find.
- © Fairfax NZ News