August/September 2003

New Zealand, for whatever reason, does not do insightful drama well. As a nation we are too earnest, too self aware, too small to portray ourselves adequately on screen. This makes For Good even more impressive. A film that touches the core of who we are and what we are concerned about so deftly you don't even feel the knife. It's a story of the imminent release of the killer of a teenage girl, Tracey Hill, who was out riding her horse when he forced her into his car by shotgun, raped, and killed her. It's told from the point of view of Lisa (Michelle Langstone), a young woman who had once met the girl and whose life, like many girls of the same age, was subsequently affected by the societal response to the killing.

"I wasn't allowed to ride horses after that" she tells the dead girl's parents in one scene.

An aspiring journalist, Lisa wants to understand the vents that so underwrote her teenage years. She is determined to interview the killer before he gets out of prison, and also her parents.

The film could have been bad. Michelle Langstone is in almost every scene – a big task for a young actor – and her bubbly pertness does grate. Some of the other performances are a little lacklustre. You don't really notice this, however, until the magical moment Miranda Harcourt, playing Tracey's mother, has her first scene. I had goose bumps. Even couched inside a plain sweatshirt and jeans, the plainest colours and style you could imagine, Harcourt's restrained and immense performance made everyone else's – except Tim Balme, playing the murderer – insignificant. You can see how she layered her performance over years of recreating, through her and her partner – director of the film – Stuart McKenzie's stage plays, the stories of victims, perpetrators and families. In For Good they have given the oft-neglected families of murder victims the ultimate accolade and the greatest respect.

The film explores all the issues around such brutal killings and also offers catharsis – of a sort. It's brilliant. It will be back to your screens, and it will engage you, no matter how removed from the everyday gunk of society you pretend to be. Go see it.

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