THE GOOD MAN
DIRECTOR: Phil Harrison
CAST: Aiden Gillen, Kelly Campbell, Thomas Gumede, Thabang Sidloyi, Lunathi Mampofu, Jonathan Harden
RUNNING TIME: tba
RATING: 3 stars (out of 5)
A SLOW-BURNING meditation on the interconnectedness of people, this movie questions what it takes to be a good person in a world that has gone bad.
It pits First World liberal naivete and a blinkered worldview against the reality of living in post-colonial South African corruption. All in the name of pointing out that good and bad are relative terms in this day and age of global village connectivity.
The Good Man opens with what passes for a pretty normal weekend scene in Cape Town. Three boys are pushing a goat in a trolley along a busy township road. They pass an older teenager who looks up from his school books and smiles at the sight as he unconsciously sways to the music playing on his radio.
On the other side of the world an older man is listening to the same song as presumably his wife drives their car down a country road. They pass horses and the family (there’s a little girl in the back) continue on their road trip, excitedly singing along to the song.
The film continues in this vein, alternating between two main characters – Michael (Gillen), the Irish banker in Belfast, working on a new financial deal, and Sifiso (Sidloyi), a schoolboy in a Cape Town township, excited about finally getting a real house from the government.
Ireland is painted as proverbially grey in contrast to Cape Town’s sun-filled skies, but it is also the disposition of the two characters that are markedly different.
Michael is stricken when he accidentally causes the death of a passerby and struggles to articulate his emotions as his life unravels.
Wracked with guilt, he is faced with a moral quandary – he wants to be a good person, do the right thing, but what is that? He ties himself up in emotional knots as his confused wife can only stand by and watch.
Meanwhile, Sifiso starts to learn more about the Anti-Eviction Campaign.
He is a bright young kid who engages with his fellow pupils in history class and wants to impress Katlego (Mampofu), a girl he likes.
The two are linked, though it takes quite a while for the audience to figure out exactly how. First, characters are established and we see each go about their daily routines, interacting with friends and family, moving through very different environments.
While Michael and Sifiso are well fleshed out, most of the supporting Irish cast are merely there for Michael to react to. The rest of the South Africans are helpful in explaining the milieu, but also not more than people Sifiso knows.
Much of the township scenes play out in well-subtitled Xhosa, though South Africans might wish some of the Irish-tinged English had received the same treatment.
The ending is the best part about the film because it doesn’t give you a pat, ready solution, which makes it disturbingly real.
While neither character is ever aware of how their actions affect the other, we see and will be haunted by it long after the film ends.
If you liked The Wooden Camera you will like this.