Review: No Good Deed (2014)

A banal story line which doesn't give a good platform to the acting talents of its cast

Colin Evans (Idris Elba), who has been imprisoned for five years for manslaughter and the suspected murder of five women, is up for parole and a decision must be made as to whether he is still a threat to society or whether his brutal instincts towards women have subsided.  His humble speech to the parole board indicates a healthier mind, full of contrition and self-control. The chairman thinks otherwise. Unwilling to fall for Colin’s po-faced and sobering testimony, he still detects a pronounced capacity for violence, calling him ‘a malignant narcissist.’ Colin is denied his liberty at this stage.

This is where Colin gets nasty. Whenever he hears something he doesn’t like, the sound effects are dulled and voices reverberate uncomfortably in his ears, creating a kind of schizophrenic meltdown.  His expression sours and his features grow heavy. You know it’s always only a matter of time before he retaliates. But, for now, he is taken away by his parole officer and transported back to prison in a van. Strangely enough, only one parole officer accompanies him in the back while the driver looks on and makes oddly sympathetic comments toward Colin’s predicament. Colin easily manages to dupe the officer (feigning a nose bleed so the other man will feel obliged to help him out), puts him in a headlock, shoots both him and the driver, then liberates himself.

For the most part of the film, Colin targets two women. The first woman is his ex-fiancée, Alexis (Kate Del Castillo), who has been seeing another man since his time in prison. He spies on her then follows her back to her house to confront her about it. It’s not exactly an original premise, neither is it executed with any originality, although Elba is convincing enough as the humiliated, egotistical brute of a boyfriend, emasculated yet quivering with a renewed desire to redeem that very masculinity which has taken such blows. All the while, Alexis plays her ‘part’ in Colin’s breakdown by stages; first the terrified victim of the intruder in her house, then the wining, subservient girlfriend – perhaps well-rehearsed in this vicious interchange – and finally, the recklessly malicious adulterer, taunting Colin with information about her sex life with the other man. Cue the blurred sound effects and Colin’s momentary disorientation. Then, unsurprisingly, he snaps back into action and viciously throttles then beats his girlfriend as though she were a cancer pressing on his brain, hard.

The second woman Colin targets makes up the bulk of the remaining narrative. Terri Granger (Taraji P. Henson) is a flustered, overwrought housewife who has two small children and an overworked husband. Already a dangerous premise for the cliché of family life. This film is devilishly clichéd with its details here: the stressed mother, literally balancing motherhood with marriage, a little tottie in one arm while she moans and gesticulates at her husband with the other, the suppressed and taciturn replies in response, the messy kitchen, the desire for a holiday just to take the edge off – just you and me, we need this! – the threat of divorce looming large over their heads, the fancy, big house that doesn’t quite cut it when one feels an overwhelming loneliness there at night, etc. This is a tense marriage, superficially portrayed to provide the backdrop for Colin’s next move. The husband, Jeffrey (Henry Simmons), is taking a trip to see his father for his birthday and Terri will be alone with the kids for a couple of days as she ponders whether her husband still really cares for her. Horny, depressed and isolated: the perfect set-up for victimhood.

The film rambles on as Terri’s annoying friend, Meg (Leslie Bibb), comes to the house for what she thought would be a girly evening. Her flirty behaviour with Colin makes you cringe and not just because of the dramatic irony – it’s genuinely cringeworthy. Spooky events increase the level of portent as a tree branch smashes through the kitchen window in the storm and the car alarm spontaneously goes off. But it’s fine because big, burly Colin is here to rectify things and restore everything to their proper order. Both women are taken by him. Until things take a turn for the worst when Meg confronts Colin out of earshot of Terri and is lead to believe that the two are having an affair. Meg’s shelf life in this film quickly expires (no trouble – she wasn’t very interesting any way) as Colin decides she’s too difficult to silence and so he kills her in the garage with a shovel.

The film then alters drastically after Terri finally discovers that the man she let into her house is a psychopath. He becomes a threat to her children as well as herself yet, surprisingly, most of the violence comes from her in the preceding scenes. How novel. It would have been much improved if the children weren’t so heavily involved. Moments in which Terri fears for their safety feel onerous to watch more than anything and they dull any prospect of a dramatic climax as we watch her wake them, then try to hush them back to sleep, then proceed to get them out of bed to safety again, carry them to the car, adjust the baby carrier while Colin rages at her to get a move on. He’s taking her out for a drive and her kids are just unnecessary baggage, both for him and the audience.

Elba does give a great performance as the beleaguered Colin, and yet the script doesn’t allow him to show any real complexity as the murderer. He never gets any good lines. Having said that, nobody really gets any good lines. The film also lingers too much and the build up toward a confrontation or explosion of violence is ultimately too long and drawn-out to achieve the right level of dread.

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