AS GOOD AS DEAD (2010)
Directed by Jonathan Mossek
Divorced dad of one, Ethan Belfrage (Cary Elwes) is hounded on a daily basis by his landlord who wishes to force his tenants out of their apartments so he may sell or develop the building instead. One afternoon, Ethan finds himself face-to-face with thugs in his apartment and quickly discovers they are not hired goons for his landlord. They are in fact radical right-wingers on a revenge mission for Helen Kalahan (Andie MacDowell), the wife of a religious preacher (Brian Cox) who was attacked and firebombed some 10 years previously. With her husband dead and herself suffering severe burns to her body, she vows to get answers from the men who ambushed them and murdered her husband, and Ethan is at the top of their list. Unfortunately for Ethan, Helen’s henchman Aaron (Frank Whaley) is a psychotic Nazi sympathiser and is prepared to go to extreme lengths to torture the truth out of him. But with Ethan protesting his innocence, what if they have the wrong man?
As Good As Dead is not a film I can clearly pigeonhole into being truly great or disappointingly poor. It has engaging qualities that keep you interested but also ridiculous scenes in which two of the main actors fail to convince with their performances. Whether this is the way in which the characters are written or by the actors’ performances themselves is one of the big questions. To be honest, it’s probably a mixture of both as Cary Elwes’ Ethan lacks the survival instincts needed when held hostage within his own home, and then sets to confidently lead Helen Kalahan and her accomplices on with a string of truth or lies later in the film. Andie MacDowell too as Helen Kalahan flips from being the grieving widow seeking revenge to the compassionate woman far too easily and fails to convince in whichever ’emotion’ she’s experiencing. The only character in the film holding it together is Aaron, a psychotic right-wing extremist who enjoys dishing out the pain on left-wing Ethan. Regardless of whether he did it or not, Aaron thrives off punishing the photographer. Played to the inch of crazed perfection by Frank Whaley, who starred as guitarist Robby Krieger in Oliver Stone’s THE DOORS, Aaron is one crazed badass. To look at him at first, you wouldn’t feel intimidated, with his short dark hair, slim build and thick rimmed glasses, he’s not exactly the initimidating kind with his slightly nerdish look. However, at the turn of his head, we know this guy means business. With SS tattooed on his neck and various other Neo-Nazi and right-wing tattoos such as a swastika, it’s clear this guy has strong beliefs and isn’t afraid to tell the world. We soon see the lengths he’ll go to get the answers he wants to hear, whether or not they are the truth. His unpredictability creates a dynamic character to support and carry this film and his ruthlessness towards Ethan and his associates prove just what kind of a lunatic he really is. The rest of the supporting cast playing smaller roles as Ethan’s family and neighbour in As Good As Dead do a decent job, particular his neighbour, and provide solid background characters to the story.
Whilst the film as a whole is an acceptable, if not average, one, I did experience a niggling aspect that bugged me from the start of this film – the score. Screening shots of the hustle and bustle of iconic New York city, the filmmakers chose quite a frantic, dramatic score, one that would not feel out of place in slasher movies. To find that piece of music at the beginning of a film that was displaying tranquil, engaging scenes of day-to-day life just felt odd, and made me question the rest of the film before I’d even seen it.
Though the music did die down from its former dramatic predictions of impending doom, I felt the film never really delivered in the way it could have done. There’s plenty of twists and turns and “oh no” moments to keep the film fan interested and satisfied but by rushing important aspects of the story, the film never seems to get to its feet.