Director: Suri Krishnamma
Writer: Steve Allrich, Aleve Mei Loh
Starring: Ray Liotta, Dominic Purcell, Vanessa Gray
Molloy (Liotta) is a small-time, hard-living crook until he's diagnosed with a heart condition. Three years later, Molloy is on the straight and narrow and living with his girlfriend Kelly (Gray), until he gets a visit from Yates (Purcell). Yates is his old partner in crime, who's fresh out of prison and planning revenge. Such is the plot of Bad Karma, a new Australian crime thriller, but right off the bat this film sinks into the clichés of these kinds of stories. It's one thing to play on common themes like revenge and redemption, but from a writing standpoint there's nothing fresh about the presentation.
They're in love, they're happy... they're doomed.
From a directorial standpoint, it's much better. Krishnamma's style is unobtrusive, yet there's a very neo noir sensibility at work. Images are framed to feel claustrophobic, or lit with a harsh glare that makes everything uncomfortably plain to see. There's a lot of great oners (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheOner) that put the audience in pursuit of the protagonist, and the look of the film makes us feel as trapped as Molloy does. It's decently paced, again recalling the neo noir style of letting the audience linger on the point of uncomfortableness before suddenly having a flurry of action. It's a very well-produced film, but unfortunately let down by a weak script.
One of the core problems is the protagonist, Molloy, who we're never given a chance to really like. It's one thing to introduce a thoroughly unsympathetic character and take him on a redemptive journey, but the second part never really comes together. He gets the heart diagnosis, and then the film flashes forward to Molloy as a card-carrying good citizen, with nothing in the script to support the change or give an inroad to the character. Without someone like Ray Liotta in the role, it would've fallen apart completely. When we do care about Molloy, it's because Liotta is able to bring pathos to the performance and make us believe he's a good guy who wants to change, even if script fails completely on that count.
'In your own time.'
Yates is a far better written character, and it's clear the screenwriters found him more interesting and fun to play around with. Dominic Purcell brings a blue-collar charm to most roles, but with Yates he also brings out a vicious, thuggish edge that's genuinely scary. Behind the Hemingway stache, untrustworthy smiles and kind words is a seething ball of violence, and the film wrings a lot of tension out of the threat of him exploding. The weak link winds up being Vanessa Gray: she's not bad, but the screen is dominated by Liotta and Purcell and her character gets the short end of the stick.
Some great performances and direction are all let down by the sub-par screenplay. On its own, the writing makes for a predictable, uninspired and somewhat dull story, and it's the rest of the cinematic elements that save it. Definitely worth a watch for Purcell's great villainous turn, but not likely to become a genre classic.
Highlight: The armed robbery.
On DVD: 11 September 2012 (Australia)