Kiwi director Mike Wallis clearly had both Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western classics and the down-and dirty HBO series Deadwood in mind when he came up with the idea for his debut film, Good For Nothing. Beautifully shot by cinematographer Matthew Knight, the picture believably substitutes the Otago region of New Zealand for the American West. But the story and dialogue jut up against this picturesque backdrop, as acts of violence and a complete disregard for human life play out every step of the way. Wallis doesn’t give his male lead a name, a reference to Clint Eastwood’s character in Leone’s films, referring to him as “The Man” in the credits. In fact, The Man (Cohen Holloway) doesn’t even speak until about 17 minutes into the film; his first line is “My dick is broke.” Unfortunately, Good For Nothing’s references and aspirations are a bit higher than what is actually on the screen.
Good For Nothing’s story draws from staples of the Western genre: a proper, well-heeled urban woman arrives in the rugged, lawless Old West, and is promptly introduced to a less-than-savory male character. In this case, the lady, Isabella (Inge Rademeyer), comes from England, and after entering a saloon her minder is shot dead by The Man. He abducts her and absconds to a spot out in the desert where he attempts to rape her. The only problem: he suffers from some performance anxiety and is unable to complete the act; hence, his first line of the film, delivered when he returns to town to seek the advice of a doctor. The Man visits a Chinese encampment and a Native American medicine man for advice, Isabella strapped to his horse behind him. Meanwhile, there’s a posse after them both because The Man killed the town’s sheriff, angering his brother.
The Man and Isabella begin to develop some sort of sympathy for each other, if not some version of a friendship, a premise that is strained by the very fact that she is his prisoner and intended rape victim. A typical conversation between the two goes something like this: Isabella—“What do you intend to do with me?” The Man—“Give you a poke.” The Searchers or True Grit, this is not. Perhaps Isabella begins to suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, or perhaps she is rebelling against the societal constraints she grew up under. Either way, it tests the story’s credibility to think that a woman might eventually grow to have some compassion for her would-be sexual assaulter.
The value in Good For Nothing lies in the film’s low-budget but well-thought-out production values and gorgeous scenery. The acting and story, on the other hand, leave something to be desired. Still, Wallis’ direction is economical and the storyline is well conceived, even if it borders on the ridiculous at times. It’s enough to suggest there may be better things to come from this budding director.
Director: Mike Wallis
Starring: Inge Rademeyer, Cohen Holloway
Release Date: Mar. 9, 2012