Cruel to be Kind
Aug 27, 2023
Amanda Sellaras Nath, Lulu Deng, Julien Short
Everybody knows the old saying ‘you’ve got to be cruel to be kind’. Whether or not there is much truth in the idea is debatable - often there are far easier ways to be kind than through cruelty. Nevertheless, on occasion, cruelty is preferable for the greater good, think Snape’s treatment of Harry in the Harry Potter franchise. The phrase lends itself to simmering tensions and numerous plot twists, both of which are lacking in ‘Cruel to be Kind’, ultimately making the film a rather flat affair.
We’re first introduced to a woman, Francis (Amanda Selleras Nath) washing some potatoes under a sink before being rudely interrupted the ringing of the doorbell. She greets a young couple - her brother, Tom (Julien Short) and Xiulan (Lulu Deng). The most interesting thing about Tom and Xiulan is Tom’s sideburns, which are well on the way to hillbilly or rural English farmer. They are simply uninteresting characters - even when angry, Tom remains a thoroughly bland presence, and even when put upon, Xiulan is uninteresting, with a one-note, monotonous reaction.
This is partially the fault of the actors, none of whom give performances that offer any real engagement. Amanda Sellaras Nath distractingly comes across as too stereotypically stuck up, and lacks variation in her delivery, whilst neither Lulu Deng nor Julien Short have the chemistry or charisma to hold a scene. However, the writing does the actors no favours, with the twist far too obvious from the outset - given away by the title in all honesty - and the dialogue, which is mainly between Francis and Xiulan, feeling forced and trite. The script, written by Kevin Rainey, lacks nuance, feeling at times like a less fresh, less tight ‘Get Out’. At other moments it is too plain - not just in its characterisation, but also in the lack of intelligence with which characters speak, with a certain robotic energy to their dialogue that makes the actors feel stiffer than their already weak performances actually are.
This makes Francis’s racism towards Xiulan, who is Asian, all the more blatant, and frustrating to watch. It lacks the vitriol which you feel is necessary to spew such hatred, and though Francis is convincingly judgemental, you never get the impression that she truly despises Xiulan, which is what we should be led to believe. The blandness is further reciprocated by Rashdan Radha’s directing, which lacks inspiration or invention throughout, and is in keeping with the flatness of the performances and the writing.
‘Cruel to be Kind’ is a dull film, which, though not outright dreadful, fails to do what all films should do to some capacity - entertain. This failure is the result of thoroughly uninspired, flat performances, directing, and writing, which all lead to an underwhelming film that fails to supply either the thrills or tension you’d expect given the plot. There isn’t much kindness towards the film in this review, but perhaps this is one of those occasions where the apparent cruelty of these words are in fact a kind way of spurring the filmmakers to improve their talents and return with a more inspired film.