Four of a Kind
June 12th 2009 02:13
David O'Connell is a guest writer on 20/20 Filmsight, and has his own excellent movie review site at Screen Fanatic.
Director Fiona Cochrane’s feature debut, after a lengthy career in documentaries and short films, has been worth the wait. Four of a Kind, yet another quality Australian release for this calendar year, is an adaptation by Helen Collins of her own play, Disclosure. Remaining faithful to its origins, the film is structured as four self-contained but interconnected acts, each becoming more intriguing as lines are drawn between the main characters; all share dark secrets, either concealed or indulged by words that, rather than lie, simply “omit the truth” in serving some indistinct, ulterior purpose.
Detective Gina Sturrock (Leverne McDonell) is a detective investigating the murder of a young nurse suspected to be the lover of a philandering doctor whose indignant wife, Anne Carson (Louise Siverson), has been brought in for questioning. Sturrock’s meticulous probing peels back the contradictions in Carson’s recollections, many of which are negated by flashback snippets revealing the web of lies upon which her discrepancies are built.
The second act effectively turns the tables as Gina becomes the one asked to respond to detailed questioning in her regular session with psychotherapist Glenda Hartley (Gail Watson). Gina reveals an impenetrable angst, an ongoing anxiety - reignited by her latest case - whose origin seems to be in the intense fascination she once had for a tutor in college; it was an episode that left her traumatised by a wicked betrayal and the ensuing confusion that engulfed her. Glenda, an astute interpreter of symbols, reads between the lines of Gina’s recollections and is able to cut to the heart of a mysterious death; Gina's reaction to her presumptive query is a revealing insight into the divinity she seemingly ascribes to the trajectory of her life thereafter.
It’s then Glenda’s turn to probe the depths of her insecurities and doubts as she confides in her longtime friend Susan Riley (Nina Landis) in the third act, before the fourth and final act - set two weeks later and centred around another murder - draws all the strands together in a painstaking arrangement, just when it seems the drama will peter out, a series of relatable facts unable to find a merging point.
Tightly plotted and marked by authentic, riveting performances from its three primary leads, Four of a Kind is a compelling argument for never judging a book by its cover; though shot on video with an ultra modest budget, its strongest attributes are those fundamental to the creation of any dramatic work: the intrinsic strength of its screenplay and the performers who vividly bring it to life.
McDonell is a wonderful actress, giving a dominating turn as the sharply focused detective who harbours a crucial secret of her own; in her case omitting the truth may be the key to serving a rough poetic justice, though it’s not known until the final moments exactly how. She’s the film's most fascinating character too, her technique as a detective relayed by a perfect balance of inquisitor and clinical tactitian. Conversely she's just as adept in revealing Gina's more vulnerable side in her revelatory session with Glenda, giving her portrayal further credence.
Watson and Landis are equally good, breathing life into their flawed but fully-fleshed out characters; wavering between emotional distress and cynical calculation they help magnify their inherent ambiguities with nuanced performances. Siverson, another experienced actress from stage and TV, is faultless in the first act, helping create a believable scenario that grounds the film in reality from its opening moments. Interspersed between acts are songs by Joe Camilleri and the Black Sorrows, his distinct musical sensibilities providing a unique momentary diversion.
The first three segments all leave irresolute fragments churning just beneath the surface of their exchanges, tantalizing with possible outcomes. Three separate murders are referred to in these confessionals - but which ones, if any, are most vital to resolving these women’s troubles, to finally uncovering the previously omitted truths?
This absorbing, cleverly conceived mystery, which reveals more subtle but crucial connections as it progresses, unravels at a carefully measured pace; its circular structure means that all the loose ends, laid out like half-concealed clues, are not tied up until the deliciously ironic inference of the final frame, the kind of twist to make you squirm, but smile with delight.
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