Catch The Fair One

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Catch The Fair One
"It’s astonishing to realise that this is Reis’ first screen role." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia

It’s an issues rarely discussed outside their own communities, but cases of missing and murdered indigenous women are endemic across parts of North America. A study by the US Department of Justice found that such women were being murdered at a rate more than ten times the national average. When they are killed, prosecutions are much less likely to follow, and reports of police mishandling, damaging or losing evidence are shockingly common. it is against this background that Josef Kubota Wladyka’s dark thriller, written in close collaboration with Kali ‘KO’ Mequinonoag Reis (who has Seaconke Wampanoag and Cherokee as well as Cape Verdean heritage) plays out.

Reis plays Kaylee, a boxer (she is herself the current WBA Super lightweight champion) who can take a lot of pain in the ring but is having to cope with far more outside it. Her younger sister has gone missing and she knows what that’s likely to mean. Tangled up feelings of guilt about how they parted, anger which demands action and fear of never knowing the truth, compel her to go undercover and follow the route which her sister almost certainly took, falling under the control of a sex trafficking gang. There are echoes of George Skluizer’s The Vanishing here, but Kaylee is much tougher than that film’s protagonist. She’s also much more ruthless, to the point where so viewers – especially parents – are likely to find some of what she does difficult to watch.

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Although much of the story unfolds along the familiar lines of the revenge thriller, Kaylee has none of the teflon tough guy quality regularly present in the heroes of such tales. She’s strong, yes, but she gets hurt. She bruises, she bleeds, she takes damage at every stage, and it is her willingness to pick herself up and go on anyway which makes her compelling to watch, even though it’s clear that this can’t end well. Wladyka’s gritty realism does not allow for the sort of popular fantasy in which a single individual destroys an entire crime syndicate, and it gradually becomes clear that Kaylee doesn’t expect this either. She’s simply trying to do as much as she can whilst she has the chance.

It’s astonishing to realise that this is Reis’ first screen role. It has won her an Independent Spirit nomination, and rightly so. She’s in almost every scene and brings depth and complexity to the kind of character rarely afforded either. Although she obviously has a strong personal connection to her character, it is still clear that this signals the arrival of a major new talent.

Although it’s this performance which really carries the film, mention should also be made of Wladyka’s stylish and evocative framing, and of Ross Giardina’s cinematography, which brings a chilly landscape to life. It’s a world of shabby motel rooms, isolated warehouses and broken asphalt with patches of ice. Clothing choices immediately delineate the difference between rich and poor, but nobody seems happy. One of the white gang members has an Asian wife; she verbally asserts herself, defending him, but her body language tells a different story. Still, Kaylee cannot afford much in the way of sympathy. As she is pushed to the brink of moral compromise, we are left to wonder how much of herself she is losing in the process of pursuing her goal.

Pared down and brutal, all the way to its uncompromising close, Catch The Fair One is a powerful expression of rage at real life horrors, and long overdue.

Reviewed on: 11 Feb 2022
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A Native American boxer embarks on the fight of her life when she goes in search of her missing sister.

Director: Josef Kubota Wladyka

Writer: Kali Reis, Josef Kubota Wladyka, Josef Kubota Wladyka

Starring: Kevin Dunn, Kimberly Guerrero, Lisa Emery, Daniel Henshall, Michael Drayer, Jonathan Kowalsky, Gerald Webb, Isabelle Chester, Tiffany Chu, Peter Johnson, Samantha Stack, Bill Smith, Jonathan Wilde, Christine Lauer, Elisabeth Manente

Year: 2021

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: US


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