Essential Catch the Fair One a Brutal, Uncompromising Knockout
Kaylee “K.O.” Uppashaw (Kali Reis) is a washed-up champion boxer who is barely scraping by. She’s working a dead-end job at a local diner and sleeping in a women’s shelter. Unbeknownst to her mother Jaya (Kimberly Guerrero), she has also been secretly trying to track down her missing younger sister Weeta (Mainaku Borrero), who disappeared two years prior. Now Kaylee has a line on the men responsible for abducting her, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to bring her sibling home.
Catch the Fair One is not the film you think it’s going to be. Based on an original story co-written with Reis, screenwriter and director Josef Kubota Wladyka’s powerful dark drama hits hard and refuses to pull a single punch. Reminiscent of Costa-Gavras’ Oscar-winning 1982 classic Missing, this is a sparse, bracingly topical thriller that has a heck of a lot on its mind, shining a light on a subject that deserves a great deal more attention than it sadly gets.
Kaylee and Weeta are of mixed Indigenous heritage. As such — and as is far too often the case — when the latter disappeared, practically no one cared, and authorities barely spent any time investigating what happened. Weeta ends up being one of the countless indigenous young women who go missing or are murdered each year.
Kaylee blames herself for not protecting Weeta. She was determined to keep training, and even though their mother wanted them to stay together, especially at night, she allows her sister to walk home unaccompanied. Now Kaylee is obsessed with finding Weeta, no matter what the cost.
This is nasty, gut-wrenching stuff, and Reis — a WBC middleweight world champion and a passionate advocate for Indigenous rights — and Wladyka do not paint a rosy picture. This is not a female-driven Taken variation or an Americanized take on the pulse-pounding Vietnamese action spectacular Furie. Instead, the pair have constructed a minimalistic character study that’s as nasty as it is necessary. If anything, the bleakness is by design.
Every beat, every moment, every step Kaylee takes and every stone she ends up overturning all matter in ways that kept me on the edge of my seat as I also fought back tears. There are no false moves; things happen with a violent ferocity that left me nearly as bruised, battered, and bloodied as the main character. Wladyka never flinches from the darker aspects of this story. Catharsis is close to impossible and happy endings are nothing more than a bedeviling illusion, all of it revealing an inhuman reality that’s unconscionably inexcusable.
The scenario Reis and Wladyka have concocted is maybe too vague at times. They leave a lot for the viewer to piece together without their aid, and the ending is an ambiguous brain-buster that refuses to answer a single question, leaving the fate of a few key characters purposefully unknown. They present issues as clearly as they can and then resolutely refuse to offer solutions, doing so with an angry resilience some may find off-putting.
I hope that most do not, however. Much like the family members and friends of the Indigenous women who for generations have gone missing, audiences do not get to know what happens next. They do not get answers. Instead, we are forced to wonder if Kaylee’s search was in vain and if her actions will produce any noticeable change. While her heroism is never in doubt, the woman’s deeds in pursuit of a potentially unknowable truth aren’t always justifiable, and the lengths she goes to achieve her goal color her hands red — not all of which is from the blood of the guilty.
Catch the Fair One is essential. It is also a brutal knockout worthy of multiple viewings. Here’s hoping it ends up getting the attention from receptive audiences it unquestionably deserves.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 3½ (out of 4)