“Nobody’s come, nobody’s gonna come,” Tom (James Franco) tells his wife, Anne (Kate Hudson), not long into Good People. He’s explaining why they shouldn’t hesitate to spend the 220,000 pounds they found in their neighbor’s apartment shortly after discovering his rotting corpse. The reasoning is nonsense, of course, as the neighbor, Ben (Francis Magee), died from an overdose, and the mix of drugs and hundreds of thousands of unaccounted-for dollars tends to eventually attract interested parties. Good People, though, only overcomes its deficiencies and gains a modicum of entertainment value precisely when it commits to this and even greater nonsense—to illogical storylines and exaggerated plot twists.
When trying to play things straight, the film struggles to meld its incongruous elements. The first scene gets things going grittily enough when Ben—still alive at this early point—and his drug-dealer accomplice, Jack (Sam Spruell), rob a rival dealer, Khan (Omar Sy), of a briefcase filled with liquid heroin and a bag full of money. After splattering Jack’s brother’s brains all over a car windshield, Ben runs off with the drugs and cash, meaning that when he dies, it’s Jack and Khan who come knocking, as does John Halden (Tom Wilkinson), a police detective still seeking revenge on Jack for providing his daughter with the drugs that caused her overdose.
The setup proposes a tense thriller, but Franco and Hudson never seem comfortable acting tough in a plot that requires them to play different criminals against each other to survive. Similarly, while Wilkinson is fantastic, he’s no Liam Neeson when it comes to exhibiting a charged thirst for revenge. None of the good people, then, appear to be much of a match for the bad guys, and in its first half the film seems correspondingly hesitant to really get to any action. The result is lackadaisical; worse, it inspires little hope for excitement in the future.
That changes abruptly in the first scene where all the characters are collected in one space, ostensibly so Tom and Anne can return the money to Jack while actually handing him off to either Khan or Halden. To avoid spoilers, let’s just say that a character who’s never appeared in the film before this scene, and who disappears again afterward, commits an act of foolish, completely nonsensical violence. The moment is absurd, but also refreshingly shocking, and it puts a spring in the film’s step that continues through its weirdly exciting climax.
Which isn’t to say that Good People shifts completely away from tense suspense toward the end; that’s still the film’s baseline tone, even as some scenes seem to cry out for a little shoot-’em-up chaos. But in the film’s better moments, Genz at least finds inventive ways to punctuate that mood—bringing in everything from nail guns to a makeshift spike pit. Call it liveliness through creative prop use. Some of it is genuinely thrilling, and all of it demonstrates some of the ways that a thriller can overcome actors who don’t make great actions stars. Mostly, though, Genz proves that if things are getting listless, it’s always better to stop making sense than to lull us to sleep with reasonable behavior.