The second feature film from Joseph Kubota Wladyka is a taught thriller that will likely be a calling card for fighter turned actor Kali Reis. Her performance is muscular and thrilling as she plays a woman who goes undercover in a human-trafficking ring in search of her missing sister. The film wrestles with some heavy subject matter before settling into a genre exercise. Catch The Fair One is a revenge film first and a human drama second. It would be easy to wish it were the other way around at times but the film succeeds on many levels even if its resolution doesn't satisfy.
At the center of the film is Reis as Kaylee, a fighter known more as "K.O." She is a mix of Native American and Cape Verdean and the representation on screen is important. Reis is in real life a major supporter of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMWIG) movement. Her passion for this movement is felt throughout the film. Even as the film becomes a thin genre exercise, you can feel how authentic the pain and anger she is portraying are. Her physical presence in the film is magnetic. She may not have all the skills of a more seasoned actor at portraying the more subtle emotions of this character but she absolutely is riveting when serving justice to the men who profit from trafficking young women into prostitution. She brings a vulnerability while still being a commanding force to be reckoned with. Kaylee is not a superhero. She is not Liam Neeson in one of his beat-um-ups. In one harrowing scene where she auditions to be a working girl, she is fully believable as someone in over her head.
Catch The Fair One is fairly linear and lean. The plot doesn't go much further than following Kaylee as she hunts for her sister and then shifts her focus to making a father and son pay the price of her rage. Wladyka directs the film efficiently. At 85 minutes, the film is paced just right. However, as the film goes on I couldn't help but want more from it. Kaylee's pain is so real in the first act of the film and Wladyka never quite knows how to connect it to the violence that follows. As the film goes on, it is clear this is more of a revenge-based genre film than a story about Indigenous women and the grave situation going on in the world.
Still, I can't help but wonder if my desire for more substance here is conditional. Is it enough that someone who looks like Reis is allowed to star in a genre flick? Does the representation outweigh the lack of a more thoughtful connection to pain and violence? I appreciate that the film made me think these things. As uncomfortable and violent as the film gets, there are always these elements on the outside of the frame that gives the viewer plenty to think about. One thing is for sure, Reis has the goods and should hopefully be appearing in more films going forward.