As a low-budget Australian film featuring four female leads, Four of a Kind would seem unlikely to draw crowds to the box office, which is probably an injustice. Strong writing and reasonable performances mean it offers an alternative for those seeking something other than the usual dross from another Hollywood blockbuster season.
Leverne McDonnell is Gina, a senior detective investigating the murder of a young pregnant woman. Her interview subject is Anne (Louise Siversen), wife of a prominent cardiac surgeon who may have been having an affair with the victim and could be the father of the unborn child. Gina isn’t convinced of her guilt however, and recalls later to her psychiatrist her own involvement in a murder as a younger woman. Meanwhile, the psychiatrist suspects her (own) lover of infidelity and her best friend may not be all she appears.
Four of a Kind started its life as a play (‘Disclosure’, Helen Collins) and it shows in this screenplay, which sticks rather rigidly to the ‘four conversations’ structure. One pair of women meets and talks for thirty minutes before a musical interlude by Joe Camilleri and The Black Sorrows signals a change in scene and another couple is introduced. McDonnell’s Gina features in three of the four segments with each of the other characters informing subsequent sections with their own experience. Lines of dialogue are repeated or paraphrased throughout, such that immediate parallels are drawn between each character’s activities and problems. The overall effect is of right and wrong blending into each other as these women face up to their own frailties and prejudices.
Performances are generally good, with only occasional missteps. McDonnell has the most meat on her character and appears to enjoy the opportunity to explore a range of emotions as the initially confident and sometimes abrasive detective gradually unravels. Siversen, Nina Landis (Susan) and Gail Watson (Glenda) all have the chance to play light and dark, with perhaps only Siverson not quite hitting the mark.
Filmed using digital betacam, Four of a Kind suffers from appearing like an amateur production, while occasional problems with echo plague the soundtrack. These flaws don’t allow the script and performances to truly shine, which is a shame given their overall quality. The musical components – while probably enjoyable for Australian music buffs – actually seem to draw the viewer out of the main story, an effect that seems likely unintended.
While Four of a Kind has its faults, it is rare for a film to settle itself so comfortably in the world of middle-aged women, and in this regard it seems fresh and appealing. That it intends to be a thriller and doesn’t quite pull it off is unfortunate, but as a drama it works, while clever interaction between component pieces at script level means each weaves into an overall narrative that may surprise.Rating: