In the BBC crime series Luther, Idris Elba plays DCI John Luther to perfection. As brilliant as the psychopaths he hunts, and almost as tormented, Luther is one of TV’s great coppers, and Elba’s outstanding performance is fundamental to what makes him work so well. So, in No Good Deed, it’s a bit jarring to see him slip into the role of someone Luther would have relished bringing to justice.
As Colin, a “malignant narcissist” who escapes from prison and invades the home of suburban mother Terri (Taraji P. Henson) on a grim mission that I won’t spoil for you here, Elba is more dour and menacing than we’ve seen him before. He savors every horrifying threat that Colin throws Terri’s way, radiating a thinly veiled rage that threatens to bubble over into brutal violence. The actor’s imposing physical presence is a boon to him here, but it’s the chilling resolve and murderous intent in his eyes that really makes him scary to watch.
One only wishes that the actor’s plainly dazzling talents, even in a role completely contrary to his best-known ones, could have been spent on something a little less disposable than No Good Deed. That one-sentence summary I gave above is really all there is to the movie (unless you read into how the script sexualizes Colin, giving him ample time to go shirtless and get up close and personal with his captive, which just makes the film a whole lot ickier).
Aside from a third-act twist that’s easy to guess if you’re able to step back and actually think about Colin’s motivations, No Good Deed fits snugly into the home invasion subgenre and doesn’t do much to set itself apart. That isn’t much of a problem at first, but as the film’s end game becomes apparent, all but the least demanding of viewers will find themselves asking, a little disappointed, “That’s it?”
Given that, outside of Elba’s glowering work, Henson is really the only reason No Good Deed passes inspection. The actress displays a fire and grit that you wish damsel-in-distress characters demonstrated more of. Terri’s inventiveness and sheer determination to survive is more than enough to sustain the film through its lean 84-minute runtime. Henson’s atypically well-shaded performance is a welcome surprise, although it’s also a depressing reminder that the actress, like Elba, belongs in much higher-brow fare than this.
Despite initial appearances, Terri is every bit a formidable opponent for Colin. That’s part of No Good Deed‘s message – that the woman can save herself, that she doesn’t need a man to snatch her (and her defenseless children, natch) out of evil’s sinister clutches. It’s a solid theme to promote, albeit one that Colin’s continued terrorizing of Terri throughout the film would seem to undercut. If she were really the smart, capable person No Good Deed wants us to think of her as, surely she would hit him with the fire extinguisher/lamp base/ornament more than once whenever the occasion arose, to make sure he was actually out cold (it’s Zombieland rule #2, for god’s sake).
That and other similarly logic-based shortcomings of the script aside, No Good Deed is at least aided by Sam Miller’s bleak direction. A TV director who worked on episodes of Luther, Miller often casts deep shadows across Elba’s face, making him seem even more malevolent, and Miller effectively plays up the foreboding darkness in scenes shot outdoors. On a less commendable note, the helmer also slips in some unnerving sexual tension between Terri and Colin, as she glances up and down his toned physique early on and he openly ogles hers on multiple later occasions. A more elegant film might be able to separate the twin threats of violence and sexuality, but in No Good Deed, their intermingling, especially from a filming standpoint, is a source of aggravation.
No Good Deed is a passable thriller, and that’s really all it aims to be. Though I hope to see Elba and Henson star in a prestige pic someday, the two actors still work well together in something with markedly lower expectations, and their combined commitment to the project prevents it from catching in the throat. The film, streamlined and punctuated with some solidly engaging action sequences, is a lot like junk food – easy to consume, not particularly good for you and insubstantial enough that you won’t feel particularly let down by how unexceptional it all ends up being.
With its 4K mastering and presentation in 1080p, No Good Deed looks very good on Blu-Ray. Detail is sharp and consistent throughout, even in scenes with lots of background objects like Terri’s kitchen. The definition of each scene is strong and realistic, and even those in the pouring rain or the dead of night look lifelike and demonstrate exceptionally high-quality detail. Flesh tones appear natural, and Miller (working with cinematographer Michael Barrett) ensures that there’s plenty of life and depth in the image even the dark-skinned Elba is prowling outside at night, an applaudable accomplishment. No issues to report with the video transfer.
The audio transfer is likewise enjoyable, though its part is less noticeable. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track does its job well, ensuring that all dialogue is crystal clear and crisp, while Paul Haslinger’s unintrusive, horror movie score is given fair treatment. It blends well with the dialogue and background sound effects, making for an absorbing mix that flows together perfectly. The only slight issue I noticed with the audio track was that some of the most sudden, loud sound effects, like a shovel coming up to meet a minor character in the face or the bark of a gunshot in a close-quarters shot, don’t seem quite as lifelike as they should. Outside of that minor quibble, this is a stellar track from Sony.
In addition to a UV digital copy code, No Good Deed comes with three special features, which include:
- Making a Thriller (12:20)
- The Thrill of a Good Fight (6:10)
- Good Samaritan (4:20)
The most complete of the special features, “Making a Thriller” looks behind the scenes with insights from Elba, Henson, Miller producer Will Packer and executive producer Glenn S. Gainor. It’s most promotional fluff, but there are some interesting comments thrown in there about the development of the characters, how Miller brought his own distinctive touch to the production and the various aspects of shooting No Good Deed as a tense thriller. “The Thrill of a Good Fight,” as its title would suggest, is more about the action sequences, which the featurette assures us were draining for cast and crew alike. It’s interesting to see how much work went into making the sequences realistic and particularly harrowing for the audience. Finally, “Good Samaritan” offers up more character insights, which don’t really add up to much in the end.
All in all, No Good Deed is no good thriller, but it’s not a particularly bad one either. Thanks to the efforts of Elba and Henson, it’s not as terrible as it could have been, and the entire affair is so economically built and paced that it’s over before you can grow weary of the rather familiar game it’s playing. The film doesn’t come close to the best of its genre, but No Good Deed is far from the worst action-thriller you could pop into your Blu-Ray player on a dreary, low-key night. The disc is also well-equipped with great video and audio along with a few extras. You could do worse.
No Good Deed is no good thriller, but thanks to the efforts of two stars who deserve better but still give it their all, it's not an egregiously bad one either.