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dir-scr Rachel Ward
prd Bryan Brown, Leah Churchill-Brown
with Ben Mendelsohn, Rachel Griffiths, Bryan Brown, Maeve Dermody, Sophie Lowe, Scott O'Donnell, Josh McFarlane, Daniel Gill, Eve Burner, Daniel Binks, Heloise Baker, Briony Kent
release Aus 6.Aug.09,
US Jan.10 psiff, UK 28.Jul.10
Ghost from the past: Lowe
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
As an Australian Outback family takes a trip down memory lane, this film is anything but sentimental. It's a darkly twisted drama about the tough road to redemption and forgiveness.
After staying away for 20 years, Ned (Mendelsohn) drives his young financee (Dermody) into the middle of nowhere to meet his family. She's clearly out of place in such a rural environment, and being reunited with his younger sister (Griffiths) and wheezy dad (Brown) isn't exactly comfortable for Ned, as skeletons come tumbling from the closet. As a boy (Gill then O'Donnell in flashback), he was unnaturally close to his twin sister Kate (Burner then Lowe), whose early death is also entangled with the death of his older brother (Binks then McFarlane).
Yes, this is a fairly heavy and bleak story, but actress-turned-filmmaker Ward gives it a raw beauty that keeps us gripped, darting back and forth in time to fill in key details as Ned dredges ever deeper into his memory. Ward shoots and edits the flashback scenes with particular skill, really getting into the mind of this confused boy as his closeness to Kate takes an inappropriate turn. And the moods and attitudes are razor sharp.
Meanwhile, the cast members create vivid characters that are utterly consistent even with two or three actors in various eras of each role. All of them have a haunted quality that draws us in, although as the story gets increasingly intense our ability to identify with the characters diminishes. As Kate, Lowe haunts the film beautifully, rather like she haunts everyone's memories. Dermody holds her own in the thankless fish-out-of-water role. And Brown has a terrific presence even when hovering around the margins.
These people are caught in an increasing spiral of guilt and self-pity, blaming both themselves and each other for what happened. And while this does make the catharsis intensely vivid, the ensuing melodrama and sentimentality don't quite ring true. Sure, the film sharply shows that merely pushing terrible memories into the shadows doesn't make them go away, which adds a rather grim slant to Ned's final actions. But frankly, this is such a heavily scarred family that they really need outside help.
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© 2010 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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