Four of a Kind -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

MILL VALLEY, Calif. -- A static, overly long talkfest, "Four of a Kind," is a snail-paced Australian production about four women mysteriously connected by betrayal, murder, extortion and revenge. It suffers a fate that can befall a play adapted for the screen: It never transcends its stage origins to come alive as cinema and, in this instance, doesn't achieve the level of noir intrigue it strives for.

Shot on digital video and in need of ruthless editing, it's hard on the eyes with harsh lighting, amateurish direction, minimal production values and flat sound design. Theatrical release seems remote but its four-act structure is well suited for an episodic cable television format or DVD.

Based on "Disclosure," a play by Helen Collins, who also wrote the script, the film is not without its guilty pleasures. Collins' writing can be stilted and literal, but her plotting goes in unexpected directions and ingeniously circles back on itself. The segments eventually fit together in jigsaw fashion but not as predictably as one might think.

Among the film's assets are its juicy roles for women over 40 and the talented actresses who have a field day playing willful, devious characters with nefarious motives, secret pasts and hidden agendas. No one is who she appears to be and each is a piece of work in her own special way.

Conceived as a series of interrogations, not solely of the police variety, first-time feature director Fiona Cochrane only briefly dislodges the camera from these extended exchanges for flashbacks. In the belabored opening volley, Gina (Leverne McDonnell), an uptight Melbourne homicide detective and the most pathological of the lot, grills Anne (Louise Siversen), a brittle, bottle redhead in denial about her husband's philandering. Anne is initially a suspect when a pregnant nurse is found dead.

Next up, Gina visits her therapist, Glenda (Gail Watson), who unearths the detective's buried criminal past. Later, Glenda confronts her treacherous best friend, Susan (a deliciously slippery Nina Landis), a bad news babe who sets Glenda up, steals her younger boyfriend and may be plotting to shake down her patients. Susan receives poetic justice (from Glenda's point of view), when charged with killing the boyfriend, the only crime she may not have committed.

The disconcerting transitions between chapters are supplied by Joe Camilleri & the Black Sorrows, a bluesy band in a Van Morrison vein. They're good and the device might have worked live on-stage but, in this context, they're like an all male crew crashing a girls' night out.

Venue: Mill Valley Film Festival

Production company: f-reel pty ltd.
Distributor: Gil Scrine Films
Cast: Leverne McDonnell, Gail Watson, Nina Landis, Louise Siversen
Director: Fiona Cochrane
Screenwriter: Helen Collin
Producer: Fiona Cochrane
Director of photography: Zbigniew Friedrich
Production designer: Adele Flere
Music: Joe Camilleri & the Black Sorrows
Costume designer: Adele Flere
Editor: Zbigniew Friedrich
No rating, 113 minutes