A university law prof witnesses his best buddy commit a murder in "A Good Man."

A university law prof witnesses his best buddy commit a murder in “A Good Man,” an interesting but over-earnest, sub-Hitchcockian meditation on friendship and ambition that would have benefited from some of the master’s keen sense of irony. Proper, grown-up entertainment at first, but later just implausible, the pic maintains interest via quality performances, particularly from Tristan Ulloa as the prof. Although admirably low-key, the pic’s air of old-fashioned sobriety — the script could have been written any time in the last 60 years — ultimately could damage its offshore prospects.

University professor Vicente (Ulloa), while paying an unexpected visit to his mentor Fernando (Emilio Gutierrez Caba), stands behind a French window and watches as his aging friend kills his wife. Quite apart from being his best friend, Fernando also holds Vicente’s career prospects in his hands.

Vicente has always believed he was the good man of the film’s title, but now is not so sure. The phone rings as Fernando seeks an alibi. Vicente accompanies Fernando to identify the body, discovered below a bridge, and later attends the funeral. The ironies are exploited to the dramatic max, with Ulloa conveying well the seething uncertainties inside Vicente as Fernando realizes he knows.

Their university colleague Daniel (Alberto Jimenez), jealous after being overlooked for promotion, suspects, a little too perceptively to be believable, that something fishy is going on.

Things start to unravel plotwise when Daniel confronts the pair. The painstakingly laid-out psychological and morally penetrating work of the early reels goes up in smoke, as the script suddenly morphs clumsily into a thriller.

Perfs are mostly fine, with Ulloa making Vicente interesting even when he’s sitting alone and anguished. Vet Gutierrez Caba seems too small a man to have conceived such a big murder plan, but he comes over as cringingly pathetic once his cover has gone. As the dean of the university, Jorge Ricoy oddly declaims his lines as though he were acting in a different era.

Dialogue is often stilted, while key scenes generally take place in the rain — perhaps because that’s what it’s like in Northern Spain or because the helmer wants to bring a hazy noir air to the proceedings.

A Good Man

Spain

Production

An Alta Classics release of a Milu Films, Castafiore Films, Tornasol Films production with the participation of TVE, TVG. (International sales: Latido, Madrid.) Produced by Gerardo Herrero, Mariela Besuievsky, Javier Lopez Blanco. Directed, written by Juan Martinez Moreno.

Crew

Camera (color), Gonzalo Berridi; editor, Fernando Pardo; music, Sergio Moure; art director, Sandra Frantz; sound (Dolby Digital), Carlos Mourino. Reviewed at Cines Princesa, Madrid, May 1, 2009. Running time: 103 MIN.

With

Tristan Ulloa, Emilio Gutierrez Caba, Nathalie Poza, Alberto Jimenez, Miguel De Lira, Jorge Ricoy.
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