A Good Man tells one of those stories that people would dismiss as pat and manipulative if it were to appear in a fictional film; it’s a heartbreaker that’ll deservedly shame more than one self-pitying middle-class nine-to-fiver. Chris Rohrlach met his girlfriend Rachel while both were in college, and Rachel not so long after discovered that she was pregnant. Chris proposed, and the couple announced their good news to both families. The next day, Rachel suffered a massive stroke that left her with severe quadriplegia, unable to speak or move any body part save her eyes, while the baby was mercifully born without incident. Thirteen years later, Chris and Rachel had a second child, also without incident (Rachel is still, quite unusually, sensitive to touch, which means that she’s able to enjoy sex), while Chris, a struggling sheep farmer, finishes a project that will hopefully supplement the family’s limited income: a brothel.
A Good Man is quite moving at times (there’s no way it couldn’t be with this subject matter), and director Safina Uberoi’s lack of polish probably serves the material, as a slick maestro like Michael Moore or Errol Morris might take too much obvious delight in the eccentricities and sad ironies unfolding before them. There are a few moments of questionable taste, such as the prolonged shots of Chris and Rachel’s oldest son crying over his inability to ever truly “know” his mother, but the documentary is generally humane and reverent, so much so that you don’t mind the even longer close-ups of Rachel’s face as she moans in anguish; you understand that Uberoi is attempting to convey to us how truly trapped this woman is.
But A Good Man feels incomplete, perhaps too tasteful. The brothel eventually blows up in Chris’s face, primarily because it was a get-rich-quick scheme that didn’t mesh with his abilities or personality—an act of desperation that he clearly didn’t think entirely through. The press notes tell us that “running a brothel turns out to be far more complex than Chris had ever imagined…”—except that we see very little of that. The business essentially implodes off screen, giving us a very sketchy sense of Chris’s relationships with the prostitutes and managers he employs, which could have made for an interesting film that perhaps revealed a more tortured side to someone who has been forced by terrible luck to play the unending role of the solid, reliable hero.
I don’t wish to cheapen Chris’s loyalty to Rachel, because, from the evidence this picture offers, he’s truly a remarkable human being. But good men can threaten to buckle when challenged, and this doc never hints at the notion that Chris might yearn for a domestic and, yes, sexual life that’s more in tune with more traditional needs and expectations. (Rachel’s parents, however, are shown as hauntingly conflicted over their daughter’s plight.) It seems rather ironic and unlikely that Chris—who essentially strikes us as a small-town Australian good ‘ol boy—would get in the sex trade, and one can’t help but wonder if this business is somehow a latent reaction to his own unorthodox sex life. But that irony is never acknowledged, perhaps because Uberoi sees that sort of inquiry as being in bad taste. A Good Man has devastating moments, but its good intentions ultimately shortchange Chris and Rachel, diminishing, not to mention patronizing, them.