Catch the Fair One

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Catch the Fair One is a game of two halves kind of movie, absolutely the wrong metaphor for a story incidentally set in the world of boxing, and starring a boxer in her acting debut. Kali Reis not only plays the similarly named Kaylee, but also co-created the story, with director Josef Kubota Wladyka.

Who came up with the fractured chronology is less clear and it doesn’t help a film that could most easily be described as a young woman’s search for her lost sister. Wrinkles come courtesy of the fact that Kaylee is also a female boxer and that her sister is the real daughter of a Native American mother, whereas Kaylee is a black Cape Verdean and most likely adopted – what this film leaves unexplained definitely adds to its power.

The chronology though… A for-instance. We meet Kaylee preparing for a fight. Bandaging the hands, shadow-boxing with her trainer, Brick (Shelly Vincent, who has the boxer physique and features because she used to be one) – “up, down, one two, one two” – and then cut to Kaylee in prison. What is she doing in prison? Is this before the fight? After it? Why is this tough boxer afraid to go into the shower on her own? Why has she got a razor blade secreted inside her mouth?

Kaylee and two people tied up
Don’t get on the wrong side of Kaylee

Best not dwell on all that. Instead let’s follow Kaylee as she follows a lead that missing sister Weeta might have disappeared as part of some massive operation involving the sex trafficking of young women. Kaylee turns sleuth and follows the increasingly warm trail from one sleazy locale to another. Wladyka does scuzziness well – grim motel rooms with smeared mirrors, deserted industrial areas, a truck stop, the negative space under a freeway, aided by a muted colour palette by DP Ross Giardina suggesting dirt smeared across every surface.

Reis is a good addition to a familiar type – the busted-flush detective – but truly comes into her own when the movie pivots at the halfway point into something that’s also familiar but a different type of offer. Once Kaylee has worked out who’s responsible for the disappearance of sister Weeta, the cinematography suddenly loses its milky edge, everything sharpens up a touch, the pace gets into a higher gear and the ghost of Liam Neeson and his special set of skills start to stalk what’s become more a revenge movie.

Nothing wrong with that. Who doesn’t want to watch a deranged badass waterboarding a suspect (for starters), while his wife and child look on? The transformation is incredibly unlikely, especially considering that earlier sequence establishing Kaylee as being timid in jail. Unless, of course, all that stuff happened after this stuff, which might be the case.

It’s confusing. Best, again, to just stick to the plot, which is simple and enjoyable and propelled by Reis, who’s convincing and likeable – the multiple piercings and extensive tatting coming over as a case of protesting a bit too much. She’s a nice young woman really. The casting of minor characters really add to the atmosphere. Daniel Henshall, Kevin Dunn and Lisa Emery don’t say an awful lot but give off a real belt of venal menace as the family at the centre of the trafficking. And Tiffany Chu, as the wife of one of the traffickers, spends most of her time with duct tape over her mouth yet manages to suggest that she’s perhaps more of a victim than she appears.

Inadequate white men do the strangest shit is the guiding idea behind Catch the Fair One, though Kaylee’s semi-detached membership of a Native American family does its best to disturb a narrative that seems driven by race.

There’s good stuff in here. Good performances. It’s well made. Telling its story straight wouldn’t have hurt it at all. It works for Mr Neeson.

Catch the Fair One – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2022

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