starring Kali Reis, Tiffany Chu, Michael Drayer, Kevin Dunn
screenplay by Josef Kubota Wladyka
directed by Josef Kubota Wladyka
by Walter Chaw Hyphenate Josef Kubota Wladyka follows his Colombian drug-trafficking adventure film Dirty Hands with the concussive, propulsive sex-trafficking thriller Catch the Fair One, announcing himself as an artist with the chops to handle an efficient action vehicle that functions as a vibrant social statement, too. It's a rich, angry work that has not a hint of sentimentality to it nor an ounce of fat on it. The uncharitable would maybe call it too straightforward: a march, brutish and uninterrupted, with a message that's more like a klaxon than a statement--but the picture is admirable for its unwillingness to gild the intensely ugly lily of vanished Native American women and white law enforcement's utter lack of interest in doing anything about this epidemic. Kali Reis collaborated on the story, a personal one for her as one of the most visible spokespeople for the MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) movement--visible because, as a boxer, she's the WBA super lightweight world champion.
Part Cherokee, Nimpuc, and Seaconke Wampanoag, Reis, a former WBC middleweight champion who fights under the nickname "KO Mequinonoag" (which means "many feathers, many talents"), brings a genuinely intimidating physicality to her starring role. Which isn't to say that her Kaylee is an indomitable force of avenging nature; Catch the Fair One takes pains to show her bleeding and bruised, haunted by the disappearance of younger sister Weeta (Mainaku Borrero) and her subsequent estrangement from a mother she suspects always liked Weeta best anyway. She's training hard for her coming ordeal, but her attention wanders. She sleeps with a razor blade tucked in her cheek and wakes in a puddle of blood. It makes it hard to eat the leftovers she slips, furtively, from customers' dirty dishes at the diner where she works as a waitress. One of them tells her she won't be getting a tip, and in a different movie, we'd know the satisfaction of her beating his face in and walking away from a humiliating job, but that's not how the world works. The world is awful. A fan recognizes her there one day and asks for a selfie. Reis plays it beautifully, like she's bracing for a punch. More like she's ready to accept a blow, because there are bills to be paid.
The bill's come due as well for disgusting Bobby (Daniel Henshall) and his terrifyingly ordinary boss, Willie (Kevin Dunn). Both are average white guys with a wife at home in the suburbs, and both are involved in abducting young women and selling them into sexual slavery. Kaylee lets herself be pulled into the business, to get shot up with heroin, disrobed, filmed, then chloroformed and spirited away into the human chattel pipeline. She wakes up in Bobby's basement. It's a finished space, tastefully decorated, and the point is that the monsters wear the faces of the people in line at Starbucks. The purpose of the razor blade in her cheek then becomes clear, and Kaylee begins cutting a swath of righteous cleansing and waterboarding in order to find her sister. To say more would be telling, though Catch the Fair One has my respect for offering up a moment of cultural and narrative uplift and closure before shutting the door on all of that foolishness cold and tight. It's a stunning debut for Reis, who is never anything but completely credible in her grief, fear, intelligence, and determination. She could be a star in film when she's done fighting. Even before then. For Wladyka, Catch the Fair One is a moment of arrival much like Narc was for Joe Carnahan or Hell or High Water was for screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. What I mean is that it's better than either of those, because it's also a watershed for representation: a model for what it should look like in a landscape littered, road-to-Hell-like, with all those allegedly good intentions.