David O'Connell, Filmsight
Director Fiona Cochrane’s feature debut, after a lengthy career in documentaries and short films, has been worth the wait. Four of a Kind, yet another quality Australian release for this calendar year, is an adaptation by Helen Collins of her own play, Disclosure. Remaining faithful to its origins, the film is structured as four self-contained but interconnected acts, each becoming more intriguing as lines are drawn between the main characters; all share dark secrets, either concealed or indulged by words that, rather than lie, simply “omit the truth” in serving some indistinct, ulterior purpose.
Detective Gina Sturrock (Leverne McDonell) is a detective investigating the murder of a young nurse suspected to be the lover of a philandering doctor whose indignant wife, Anne Carson (Louise Siverson), has been brought in for questioning. Sturrock’s meticulous probing peels back the contradictions in Carson’s recollections, many of which are negated by flashback snippets revealing the web of lies upon which her discrepancies are built.
The second act effectively turns the tables as Gina becomes the one asked to respond to detailed questioning in her regular session with psychotherapist Glenda Hartley (Gail Watson). Gina reveals an impenetrable angst, an ongoing anxiety – reignited by her latest case – whose origin seems to be in the intense fascination she once had for a tutor in college; it was an episode that left her traumatised by a wicked betrayal and the ensuing confusion that engulfed her. Glenda, an astute interpreter of symbols, reads between the lines of Gina’s recollections and is able to cut to the heart of a mysterious death; Gina’s reaction to her presumptive query is a revealing insight into the divinity she seemingly ascribes to the trajectory of her life thereafter.
It’s then Glenda’s turn to probe the depths of her insecurities and doubts as she confides in her longtime friend Susan Riley (Nina Landis) in the third act, before the fourth and final act – set two weeks later and centred around another murder – draws all the strands together in a painstaking arrangement, just when it seems the drama will peter out, a series of relatable facts unable to find a merging point.
Tightly plotted and marked by authentic, riveting performances from its three primary leads, Four of a Kind is a compelling argument for never judging a book by its cover; though shot on video with an ultra modest budget, its strongest attributes are those fundamental to the creation of any dramatic work: the intrinsic strength of its screenplay and the performers who vividly bring it to life.
McDonell is a wonderful actress, giving a dominating turn as the sharply focused detective who harbours a crucial secret of her own; in her case omitting the truth may be the key to serving a rough poetic justice, though it’s not known until the final moments exactly how. She’s the film’s most fascinating character too, her technique as a detective relayed by a perfect balance of inquisitor and clinical tactitian. Conversely she’s just as adept in revealing Gina’s more vulnerable side in her revelatory session with Glenda, giving her portrayal further credence.
Watson and Landis are equally good, breathing life into their flawed but fully-fleshed out characters; wavering between emotional distress and cynical calculation they help magnify their inherent ambiguities with nuanced performances. Siverson, another experienced actress from stage and TV, is faultless in the first act, helping create a believable scenario that grounds the film in reality from its opening moments. Interspersed between acts are songs by Joe Camilleri and the Black Sorrows, his distinct musical sensibilities providing a unique momentary diversion.
The first three segments all leave irresolute fragments churning just beneath the surface of their exchanges, tantalizing with possible outcomes. Three separate murders are referred to in these confessionals – but which ones, if any, are most vital to resolving these women’s troubles, to finally uncovering the previously omitted truths?
This absorbing, cleverly conceived mystery, which reveals more subtle but crucial connections as it progresses, unravels at a carefully measured pace; its circular structure means that all the loose ends, laid out like half-concealed clues, are not tied up until the deliciously ironic inference of the final frame, the kind of twist to make you squirm, but smile with delight.
At the Movies, Margaret Pomeranz
It’s interesting seeing a whole swathe of low budget Australian films emerging, all very different and most of which display real talent. The latest is Four of a Kind from director Fiona Cochrane from a screenplay by Helen Collins.
It’s structured around four interrelated scenes of confrontation, with musical interludes by Joe Camilleri and The Black Sorrows. In the first we see Detective Inspector Gina Sturrock, (LEVERNE McDONNELL) interviewing Anne, (LOUISE SIVERSEN) the wife of a doctor about the murder of a nurse who was supposedly having an affair with Anne’s husband.
In the second Gina is in a session with her psychiatrist Glenda, (GAIL WATSON) in which she talks about her days at university where she became a drudge to one of her lecturers. PETA BRADY plays the young Gina.
The third is a conversation between Glenda and her friend Susan, (NINA LANDIS) about Glenda’s fears that her much younger live-in lover is having an affair.
In the fourth we return to the interrogation room at the police station for yet another murder. This neat little film is nicely written, very nicely performed and intriguingly structured.
Unfortunately the film has that flat video look which detracts and design is a bit sparse too, the budget shows. But it film holds interest all the way through and at the end you’re left intrigued and satisfied, with a number of tantalising questions hanging in the air.
It’s Fiona Cochrane’s first venture into fiction. She’d previously made documentaries, including RACHEL: A PERFECT LIFE. In this she shows she can elicit impressive performances from her strong cast, based on Collins’s intelligent screenplay.
Louise Keller, Urban Cinefile
After interviewing a surgeon’s wife, Anne Carson (Louise Siversen), in a murder investigation involving a young student with a crush on Anne’s husband, Detective Inspector Gina Sturrock (Leverne McDonnell), reveals a long-forgotten crime to her psychiatrist Glenda Hartley (Gail Watson). But the psychiatrist has problems of her own. Her new young lover Michael (Ben Steel) might be having an affair with her best friend Susan (Nina Landis).
Circular in structure, this beguiling drama links four stories in which truth, honesty and deception play a vital part. Murder, infidelity, blackmail are all woven together in a fascinating tale that is as compelling as a whole, just as each of its self-contained components. The women in the stories go from being in a position of control to one of vulnerability and each story intrigues as we get to know the characters and their circumstances.
There are issues of morality, manipulation, friendship, jealousy and rage as dark secrets and the connection between a surgeon’s wife, a cop, a psychiatrist and a government policy officer are revealed. The fine line between fact and fiction is also canvassed, while the bitter sweet pieces de resistance between each scenario are the soulful jazzy musical pieces from Joe Camilleri & The Black Sorrows. Tunes like Ain’t Love the Strangest Thing and Little Murders add potency to the juicy pot stirred.
Although I worried a little that women being questioned by police without their lawyer would readily admit to lying, the thrust of writer director Fiona Cochrane’s script is terrific and the revelations intriguing. Also interesting is how themes reoccur in different contexts and a character trait perceived to be negative is eventually inherited by the person against whom it is used. I especially like the way Cochrane constantly dips into flashback to illustrate the circumstances, as her characters tell their stories.
We first meet Louise Siversen’s well-to-do surgeon’s wife Anne being interrogated on camera in a murder investigation for her adulterous husband’s lover. ‘Fame and glory are the greatest aphrodisiac my husband has ever known,’ she says as she rejects his infidelity. It is this notion of adulation being an aphrodisiac that prompts Gina (Leverne McDonnell), the interrogating cop, to recall her past relationship with her uni lecturer, when she visits her assured psychiatrist Glenda (Gail Watson), shrink to the rich and famous. But Glenda is not always in control; we next meet her when she is at her most vulnerable, facing the truth about her straying, younger lover and her best friend Susan (Nina Landis).
Cochrane keeps us guessing until the very end before we see where she is taking us. Omitting the truth can be as devastating as telling a lie, and there are many truths omitted.
Performances are all excellent, especially McDonnell’s Gina who allows us to understand the journey from victim to perpetrator with great clarity. Universal in its appeal, but with special resonance to women, this seemingly simple film is deceptively complex, and lingers accordingly.
Australin Film Institute feature, including exsclusive behind the scenes and trailer here