“Catch the Fair One”, which won the Audience Award when it was premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in last year, is a gritty thriller film mainly driven by its flawed heroine’s determination and desperation. As she boldly delves into a grim and harsh world of human trafficking, the movie often unnerves us for good reasons, but it still holds our attention to the end thanks to its skillful handling of mood, story, and characters, and it is also held well together by one of the best breakthrough performances in last year.
During its early part, the movie lets us observe how a young native American woman named Kaylee (Kali Reis) struggles day by day. She was once a promising professional female boxer, but then her life and career were ruined by her drug addiction, and she has diligently tried to recover from that despite her current homeless status. She still has to depend on a local center for homeless people at every night, but she has earned her meager living via working at a small diner during daytime, and there is also one thing on which she has stubbornly focused – finding her missing younger sister.
Along the story, we slowly gather how much Kaylee was devastated by the missing of her younger sister at that time. As reflected by a brief flashback scene, Kaylee and her younger sister were very close to each other, and it is implied that her guilt about the missing of her younger sister subsequently led her to drug addiction. When Kaylee later visits her mother who has worked as a counselor for people struggling with personal loss, it is clear that they have been quite estranged from each other since that time, and their meeting only reminds them again of the old anger and resentment between them.
Meanwhile, there comes a small but significant opportunity for Kaylee’s ongoing search for her missing younger sister. She has suspected that her younger sister was kidnapped by a local sex trafficking ring, and she happens to receive a piece of information which suggests that her younger sister is being held by that local sex trafficking ring in question. Because it looks like her younger sister will soon be sold and then taken to somewhere, Kaylee decides to handle the matter for herself, so she subsequently lets herself become one of the latest young women to be handled by that local sex trafficking ring.
Of course, what follows next is not so pleasant to say the least, and we are served with a series of disturbing moments as our heroine goes deeper for finding her younger sister. At one point, she is demanded to do something she does not want at all as a recovering addict, but she has no choice at all from the beginning, and, to make matters worse, she later has to go through more humiliation for maintaining her cover. While chilling and disgusting us a lot during this scene, the movie firmly sticks to its heroine’s viewpoint, and that is the main reason why this and other disturbing moments in the film do not feel exploitative at all.
Around the narrative point where our heroine comes across several criminal figures who may know her younger sister’s whereabouts, the mood becomes grimmer and harsher than before. Never overlooking its heroine’s vulnerability, the screenplay by director/co-producer Josef Kubota Wladyka, which is developed from the story written by him and Kali Reis, also conveys to us more of her steely determination, and we are not so surprised when she attempts to go all the way for getting the information about her younger sister from one of the aforementioned criminal figures.
In the end, everything in the story culminates to the climactic part where Kaylee comes to confront the boss of that local sex trafficking ring (Is this a spoiler?), but the movie maintains its dry and phlegmatic attitude as usual without resorting to any cheap thrill or catharsis. While it delivers some shock and awe as expected, the movie stays focused on story and characters even at that point, and the final scene is accompanied with a bitter but poignant sense of closure as our heroine comes to make some peace with her guilt.
The movie depends a lot on the impressive debut performance from Reis, who is actually a professional female boxer in real life. Although she did not have any movie acting experience before appearing in this film, Reis ably embodies her character without any misstep, and her unadorned natural acting constantly galvanizes the film from the beginning to the end. Steadily maintaining her character’s hardened appearance, she palpably expresses her character’s emotional conflicts to us, and she is also fairly believable when she is demanded to do some physical actions later in the story.
In case of a few notable main cast members in the film, they humbly support Reis without overshadowing her at all. As Kaylee’s distant mother, Kimberly Guerrero has her own little moment during her scene with Reis, and Daniel Henshall and Kevin Dunn are suitably deplorable as two substantial supporting characters in the story.
In conclusion, “Catch the Fair One” is definitely not something you can casually watch on Sunday afternoon, but it is still worthwhile to watch thanks to Wladyka’s deft direction and the strong performance from Reis, who may impress us more if she goes further with her nascent acting career. Although this is only his second feature film, Wladyka demonstrates here that he is another interesting filmmaker to watch, and I guess it will be interesting to see what will come next from him during next several years.