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No Good Deed

Sony Pictures // PG-13 // January 6, 2015
List Price: $35.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted December 29, 2014 | E-mail the Author
Colin (Idris Elba) has spent the last five years in prison. He was convicted on a manslaughter charge, but Colin is more dangerous than it seems; although the prosecutor couldn't make a case, he is responsible for the death of five other women. He is granted a parole hearing, having been only been convicted of the lesser crime, but one of the parole board is wise to his act, holding the other crimes against him, denying his release. Colin kills two guards and escapes, traveling to Atlanta to see his ex for the last time. Afterward, he hits the road, only to crash his vehicle in the middle of a storm. He crawls out of the wreckage and goes to the first house on the street, where Terri (Taraji P. Henson) is planning on spending the evening having a girls' night with her friend Meg (Leslie Bibb) while her husband (Henry Simmons) is away celebrating his father's birthday on a golf course.

No Good Deed is a bit of a paradox. For a film critic like myself, the film is more interesting to think about than to watch, and for its intended audience, it will probably be more interesting to watch than it will be to think about. Part of what makes it unique is how it hides that uniqueness beneath the surface, affecting the film but never calling attention to it. It is a run-of-the-mill intruder thriller, complete with many of the usual contrivances and questionable character decisions, which also happens to star two black leads, and was written by a woman (Aimee Lagos, 96 Minutes). It features some impressively efficient construction that pays off in fairly standard but reasonably effective suspense sequences.

Plenty of films feature a woman being terrorized by a menacing man, but even though Terri is the main character, there's a focus on Colin's actions that speaks to the perspective from which the film was written. He is a serial killer of women, deeply jealous over the idea that his fiancee, who in his mind caused his manslaughter incident, has left him while he was in jail. When he arrives at Terri's house, he knows exactly how to put her mind at ease about opening the door for a stranger, slowly convincing her, despite her guard being up (that guard meaningful in and of itself), to let him in the house, to have a conversation with her, and eventually reveal information that he uses against her. When Meg arrives, he attempts to play a devious head game with her in order to turn her loyalty away from Terri, and receives a noteworthy response. Later, he forces her to stand inside the shower with him as he washes himself. He has no sexual feelings for her, but he uses his charisma as a weapon. There is also Terri's concern for her children, who are home with her and pulled into their situation as pawns. She is always concerned for them first, but with a subtlety rarely seen in thrillers about mothers.

The screenplay is also a model of narrative efficiency. There are clever connections in it, dots that other screenplays would not be inspired enough or bother to cross. Terri is a former district attorney, someone who specializes in women's abuse cases. Meg is a realtor who happens to know everyone on the street that Colin claims he's from. There is also a particularly devious twist that actually surprised me both in its wit and simplicity, which cleverly doubles up on guilt and the ripple effects of responsibility in a way that again speaks to the perspective of the writer. Still, there are some predictable dumb thriller tropes, most of which involve Terri's strategic choices in certain moments (a scene on the stairs, and a later one involving a police officer), and more than a handful of cliched lines ("If you were gonna kill me you would've done it already") from any number of films. They're minor distractions, but distractions just the same.

Elba brought Sam Miller, one of his "Luther" co-workers, onto the project to direct, who does an adequate job. Miller does some interesting things with Colin's perspective when he starts to get angry, although part of Miller's job is done by fight choreographer Larnell Stovall, who makes the physical battle between the towering Elba and average-sized Henson seem believable. The first half of the film is mostly build-up, and it's a bit tedious, with the cat-and-unaware-mouse game between Colin and Terri often seeming arbitrary -- it's clear that Colin is dangerous, but a bit unclear what will actually set him off. Most of the screenplay's inspiration is thematic rather than character-based, and Terri and Colin are basically ciphers, a relatable protagonist in peril and a general embodiment of evil. Of course, this is where the casting comes into play, with Elba and Henson both giving strong enough performances to sustain the film until the action begins to ramp up. Both actors also served as executive producers on the film, and their participation is appreciated, likely effort making sure the details that make No Good Deed memorable weren't sanded away on the way to the screen.

The Blu-ray
Much like the film itself, the Blu-ray reuses the functional "big head" poster art for the cover. In this case, something more stylish would actually come off as misleading -- sometimes, less is more, or at least more accurate. The disc comes in an eco-friendly Vortex Blu-ray case, and there is an insert with a code for a UltraViolet Digital Copy.

The Video and Audio
Sony's 2.39:1 1080p AVC presentation (identified on the back cover as one of the studio's "Mastered in 4K" transfers) of No Good Deed is predictably impeccable. Even in wide shots, details such as the texture of Elba's skin is plainly visible, and there is tremendous depth to the image -- a wide aerial shot of the horizon early in the film stretches convincingly off into the distance. The film looks a bit flatter, contrast-wise, in nighttime outdoor footage as opposed to indoor or daytime scenes, and colors seem natural, if (as is the norm these days) slightly muted. There is occasionally a bit of motion blur likely inherent to the cameras used, but there is no evidence of banding or artifacts throughout the feature.

Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Master Audio track which is equally impeccable. The film doesn't present any stylized audio, and the immersiveness of the track is on par with other thrillers, effectively capturing the natural ambience of a house filled with kids' toys or the sound of a storm, as well as more action oriented moments such as gunshots or breaking glass. Dialogue and music sound fine. Nothing unusual to report across the board. A Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, DD 5.1 French and English Descriptive Audio, English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and English, French, and Spanish subtitles are all also included. (Note that the English captions are placed over black bars, whereas the English subtitles are directly over the image.)

The Extras
Three featurettes are included, all in HD. "Making a Thriller" (12:20) is the primary making-of featurette, presenting an EPK-style overview of the characters and story, with a number of clips. Pretty standard stuff, with the usual talking heads with the key cast and crew, although producer Will Packer makes some amusingly candid comments, and there's a couple tiny snippets of fun B-roll. The latter two are Blu-ray exclusives. "The Thrill of a Good Fight" (6:10) seems like it's going to be about the physical scenes at the end of the movie, and it does, but it also touches on the overall concept of the two characters and how they're meant to play off of one another. The actors discuss working together, and the physicality of their roles. "Good Samaritan" (4:28) is the most interesting of the featurettes, the only one featuring writer Aimee Lagos, who talks about her ideas for the script and the characters.

A promo for UltraViolet Digital HD, and trailers for The Equalizer, When the Game Stands Tall, Predestination, The Remaining, and Whiplash play before the main menu. No trailer for No Good Deed is included.

No Good Deed is a movie with more going on behind the camera than in front of it, but even as a thriller, it has its moments. That said, it's also not a movie likely to get a bunch of rewatches, so consider this one a rental rather than a purchase.

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