Film in review – “Good People”

Good_People_posterThis movie should have worked better than it did. The lead parts are A-list: James Franco and Kate Hudson. Together, as Tom and Anna, a young married couple, they have a believable chemistry. (They even seem comfortably intimate taking showers together, but no sex, please, we’re becoming British.)

The two Americans (thankfully not trying to fake an English accent) move to England because Tom’s grandmother died and left them with a rambling estate in the country, which he thought would be a great prospect for renovation. The problem is, the place is a real money pit (what with dry-rot stair banisters) and he’s not even told Anna the half of it on how much he’s already put into it. But even she can tell that it’s rapidly making them bankrupt. They’ve just come from a failed landscaping business back in the States, and her teacher job (though she rarely seems to be working) might help them survive, but won’t help them recover. And it certainly won’t help them pay for the expensive IVF procedure that they’re contemplating because they both really want to start a family.

Enter the unexpected financial windfall. It seems they had a downstairs renter, who lately just won’t turn down his television, and when they finally go down there to investigate they discover it’s for good reason: he’s dead. And he’s been that way long enough to stink very badly. Of course Tom and Anna, being “Good People,” call the police, which produces a certain loner detective, John Halden (Tom Wilkinson). Halden questions them very carefully about this anonymous basement renter, a “bad guy” well-known to Halden, as part of the drug ring that enticed his only daughter into a fatal downward spiral of use and abuse. Halden plays his cards close to the vest, he doesn’t tell Tom and Anna why he’s so interested in this case, and why he keeps coming around and asking them about their latest financial transactions. Maybe our cute little happy American couple doesn’t possess enough smarts between them to figure out that Halden is operating on his own here, despite the fact that he never shows up with anyone else. And that his line of questioning already suspects them of having discovered the cash stash.

Ah yes, that cash stash. The one that the basement renter hid in the ceiling tiles. This is nearly everyone’s fantasy: find a big wad of unmarked bills (in this case, pound-notes) that don’t seem to belong to anybody and can’t be traced. That would solve lots of problems, right?

But just because our basement renter doesn’t appear to have any next of kin to claim his few personal effects doesn’t mean that there aren’t some bad guys out there who are very interested in what happened to “their” money. This is where it gets convoluted, because it seems there is, in fact, no honor among these thieves and their double-crossing each other makes it difficult to tell who the evil players are.

Though our friendly, sociable, handsome couple in fact find themselves vulnerable when it comes to being confronted by conscienceless killers, it turns out that they’re not completely without resources. It just takes them a while to decide that they have to try to out-bad the bad guys, and hope it doesn’t make them bad. Just temporarily investing in self-preservation.

It should have worked well, but somehow has the feel of some B-grade wannabe, where the action is obviously foreshadowed and the bad guys are not quite sinister enough and the Good People, well, turn out to be less than genteel themselves. Yes, some of the violence is even tortuous, which should make the squeamish stay away, and by the end of a lot of menacing threats and gory bloodletting we viewers are kind of glad the ordeal is over, also.


Ronald P. Salfen is the parish associate at Woodhaven Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.