No Good Deed might look like just another cheap, paint-by-numbers thriller, but this B-movie starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson is slightly better, and slightly more interesting, than youíd expect from anything released during the dead zone of September. Slightly.
Elba plays Colin Evans, a suspected serial killer of women who was only arrested for manslaughter after a bar fight turned lethal. After easily escaping from a prisoner-transport van following an unsuccessful parole hearing (very, very easily -- itís understandable that movies need a simple way for killers to break free, but can you really make a clean escape by asking for tissues and then lunging for the officerís gun?), Evans winds up at the home of Terri (Henson), a prosecutor-turned-stay-at-home mom whose husband is away. He asks to use her phone to call for a tow truck after an accident, which of course leads to his being invited inside. From there, their interactions gradually move from polite conversation to a sadistic game of cat and mouse.
No Good Deed feels like it was made for very little money: There are only five characters who get more than a few minutes of screen time, and most of the middle portion of the film takes place in a nondescript, upper-middle-class suburban home (and the climax merely moves the action to a different nondescript, upper-middle-class suburban home). Veteran TV director Sam Miller fails to bring much style to the film as compensation -- he attempts to depict Evansí hatred of women via tight close-ups and a droning noise on the soundtrack, but thatís about it. Yet this highlights the pictureís intriguing feminist themes: Evans isnít characterized as a garden-variety psycho or a criminal mastermind, but specifically as a violent misogynist with a need to absolutely control the women around him. Likewise, most of the men we see are either enablers of this kind of behavior (the prison guard who chalks his crimes up to ìwomen troubleî) or totally ineffectual (Terriís checked-out husband, a cop whom Evans quickly overpowers).
Miller is obviously a far cry from Brian De Palma in terms of both sheer style and thematic ambition, but No Good Deed shares with some of De Palmaís best works a feminist viewpoint that seeks to explore the damage that men inflict on the women around them, and that undercuts any notion that women should rely on men to protect them from danger. The movie even contains a surprisingly clever third-act plot twist that clarifies Evansí motivations and reinforces the fact that Terri is all alone and cannot depend on the males around her for help.
The filmmakers have the good taste not to linger on the scenes of violence toward women, but they definitely glorify the moment when Terri finally gains the upper hand against Evans (spoiler alert -- if youíve never seen a movie before, that is). Of course, thatís what really separates No Good Deed from something like De Palmaís Dressed to Kill: The latter sees a womanís sexual harassment and intimidation as a nightmare that has no real solution, while the former is really just a straightforward tale of empowerment in which the female protagonist defeats her abuser and all is well. Still, even if No Good Deed ultimately shies away from the issues it raises, itís a solid drama with more going on beneath the surface than youíd expect.
Cast & Details
- Released: 2014
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: No Good Deed might look like just another cheap, paint-by-numbers thriller, but this B-movie starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson is slightly better, and slightly more interesting, than youíd expect from anything released during the dead zone of Septem… (more)