A Good Man in Africa is about the British practicing a modified form of the age-old British diplomacy in Africa (duh) in modernity. As such, when I saw John Lithgow’s name in the credits, I did not expect him to be playing a Brit. However, Lithgow does play one and he does so quite poorly. Lithgow doesn’t really create a character in Good Man, he just creates a posture. He’s annoying but not really in the film often enough to hurt it. Unfortunately, the film’s made with the same approach. Colin Friels’s philandering, hard-drinking assistant to the diplomat (Lithgow) is not a likable character, certainly not one the audience can identify with. Friels’s performance is likable–and good–but it’s a losing battle. Watching A Good Man in Africa is like watching a long, drawn-out error. It misfires immediately and never recovers, nor makes any attempt to do so.
The film’s based on a novel and the novelist wrote the film. I’m not a fan of such behavior because it usually doesn’t work right. I have no idea if A Good Man in Africa is a good novel, but after seeing the movie, I’ll never know. The film toys with having Friels narrate it, but appears to have inserted that narration as an afterthought. If it were going the whole way through, it might work better. Friels is barely the film’s protagonist, since all of the scenes are about other people.
As for the other people, while Lithgow is easily the worst, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer is pretty awful too. The titular Good Man is actually Sean Connery, who gives a better performance than usual, but again, it’s certainly not anything of note. The film’s most underused resource was Diana Rigg and I spent the last act wishing she and Friels would run off together so I’d at least get to see fifteen minutes of good acting and chemistry.
I only watch Good Man because of Friels and knew, given Bruce Beresford directed it, the film would be severely lacking. Maybe that lack of any expectation dulled me to the film’s more obvious deficiencies. Or maybe they were just too dull to care about.
Directed by Bruce Beresford; screenplay by William Boyd, based on his novel; director of photography, Andrezj Bartkowiak; edited by Jim Clark; music by John du Prez; production designer, Herbert Pinter; produced by John Fiedler and Mark Tarlov; released by Gramercy Pictures.
Starring Colin Friels (Leafy), Sean Connery (Murray), John Lithgow (Fanshawe), Diana Rigg (Chloe Fanshawe), Sarah-Jane Fenton (Priscilla Fanshawe), Louis Gossett Jr. (Adekunle), Maynard Eziashi (Friday) and Joanne Whalley (Celia).