The Good Man
Telling one story in a film is enough of a challenge, those that interweave more into their narrative demand a colossal level of balance to be anything more than a gimmick. ABCs of Death is both a perfect example and condemnation of this hyper-ambitious mode of storytelling. In relation to this, Phil Harrison’s debut feature, the Good Man (out on Soda Pictures), attempts to knit together the fates of two people from two massively contrasting countries.
On the one hand is Michael (Aiden Gillen) an Irish banker whose life crumbles under the insurmountable trauma of causing another man’s death. He stole a taxi fair, the man whom he stole it from wandered into the road getting hit by a car for his trouble. A world away from that is South Africa and Sifiso (Thabang Sidloyi). Although Sifiso lives in a township under the thumb of a conceited and negligent government, he is a happy person. He has a girl he likes and he has been afforded the opportunity to go to school. Eventually the stories of Michael and Sifiso connect, but until that point the Good Man alternates between Michael’s fall and Sifiso’s rise.
While the performances of the entire ensemble are strong, there is a prominent difference in quality in the two halves. Running to a meagre 71 minutes, the two parts effectively function as short films. In Michael’s short film, much is grounded in the comfort of the middle class with Aiden Gillen attempting to balance a healthy work and family life with the constant distraction and suffocating guilt of causing another man’s death. Work is neglected; his family and young daughter are ignored, therefore leaving much of his involvement in the film sees him sulking around Ireland watching the family of the deceased. Even if Aiden Gillen brings Michael to life with a dependably rounded performance, all that can be said of his character is that he lacks empathy. His role is mere gloomy introspection; there is nothing to connect to either before or after the tragic accident. Consequently, this half of the film becomes terribly dull.
Half of the Good Man may be dull, but there could never be such accusations levelled at the remaining half. All that may happen is the usual coming of age story, peppered with episode from dedicated to the political strife the poor are subject to in South Africa, yet it is here where the gold comes from. Take cinematography, in Ireland Angus Mitchell does the best he can, but ultimately all he has to work with is the anonymous grey of the inner city. It’s all been done before. Naturally there are more colours to work with in Africa, meaning the cinematography by Roy Zetisky is of a whole different class. His photography breathes with life and energy, giving his scenes a gorgeous aesthetic glowing with vitality.
Additionally the African work boasts dialogue defining a much richer and the sense of character. Michael felt as if his guilt consumed everything to the point that there was next to nothing left. Take the much more wholesome arc in South Africa, where despite it still conforming to short film analogy, Harrison develops his characters with the heart one would expect from the same scenarios developed into a full feature. What’s more, this incredibly efficient (part of) script sees one connect with the characters in a short space of time and, most important, be moved by the endgame.
The gap in class between the two halves in significant, but the point does eventually arise when they are both connected, with earth shattering results. The end-game suggests that these two characters are tied together in such a way that only one of them is permitted happiness, and how the ‘first world’ is blissfully ignorant to the plight of those outside their understanding. Emotionally the film rewards in drips and drabs, and fortunately that’s enough. This ambitiously structured début has an important message to tell and in spite of the erratic script, The Good Man calls to a fascinating future for Phil Harrison.
THE GOOD MAN IS OUT NOW ON SODA PICTURES DVD