Only the Good Survive- SXSW 2023 Review
March 11th, 2023
MOVIE: ONLY THE GOOD SURVIVE
STARRING: SIDNEY FLANIGAN, DARIUS FRASER, D’PHARAOH WOON-A-TAI, FREDERICK WELLER, WILL ROPP
DIRECTED BY: DUTCH SOUTHERN
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
Only the Good Survive starts with two characters in a room. It may seem like writer/director Dutch Southern is attempting to box his characters in but instead is trying to set them up to break out. It’s not just a simple exercise of a detective interrogating his subject, but it’s a heist film of deep characters coming together, finding one another in their strange worlds, and bonding till the very end. Only the Good Survive takes a bit to get a grasp of. It’s an macabre version of a Hal Ashby-style heist, where a group of friends discover an elderly couple with a collection of rare valuable coins, and devise a plan to take them for their own. What it amounts to is a film with incredible style, certainly a unique voice from Southern, and an undeniably stylish piece of work. Only the Good Survive is the right kind of memorable.
It begins with Brea Dunlee (Sidney Flanigan), the only surviving member of her group of friends, brought in by police detective Mack (Frederick Weller). He’s asking about how the people she was with ended up dead. What she knows is that she wasn’t the perpetrator, but she’s not exactly forthcoming on what their plan was in the first place. Things flashback to Brea meeting Ry (D’Pharoah Woon-A-Tai), where the two have an instant “lovers on the run ” feel. He works as a bartender and she has the demeanor of a praying mantis, waiting for her moment to dominate anyone. We meet Ry’s friends Erv (Will Ropp) and Dev (Darius Fraser), two loners trying to find a quick path to success, both with a side of anger. When Ry discovers the coins, it’s now a gang of four, and Brea recounts exactly how they went about convincing to give it a go. There is clearly a puppet pulling the strings but how did Brea get here is what we want to know.
Right off the bat, there is an intriguing blend of style and writing from Southern. He mixes in the sharp heist moves of a Soderbergh film and the robust characters of a Coen brothers lark. There are also inventive transitions, which include animated visuals, and a subverting of where the story could go next. Midway through Brea tells a story about a woman that lost a baby– which will come off as a bit distracting at first– but of course all comes back in the end. That’s what makes Southern’s style so unique and inventive. He has a train of thought that you have to trust. He’s getting to it all and we just need to be patient.
The other part of Only the Good Survive that works is how each member of the cast blends without losing focus of their individuality. There’s great chemistry here. Often in a heist movie things can merge together in convoluted ways. When you have Flanigan front and center you truly can’t look away. Her performance in this is completely different from Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Her character development is mysterious and cold, which is why her third act becomes delightfully shocking. It’s safe to say that Flanigan is a born natural.
Overall, the raw edge to Only the Good Survive is infectious, and the introduction of a truly unique voice in cinema from Dutch Southern. The pacing can be at times languid and not every narrative choice works but that’s what first time features often have. Only the Good Survive is a stand-out first feature. The kind of original filmmaking that deserves high praise.
ONLY THE GOOD SURVIVE HAD IT’S SXSW PREMIERE FRIDAY MARCH 10TH, 2023. MORE INFO COMING SOON.
Written by: Leo Brady