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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Justin Kurzel
scr Shaun Grant
prd Nick Batzias, Shaun Grant, Justin Kurzel, Virginia Whitwell
with Caleb Landry Jones, Judy Davis, Anthony LaPaglia, Essie Davis, Sean Keenan, Phoebe Taylor, Annabel Marshall-Roth, Anita Jenkins, Rick James, Fergus O'Luanaigh, Ian Hume, Carolyn Hume
release Aus 30.Sep.21,
US 30.Mar.22, UK 1.Jul.22 21/Australia 1h52
CANNES FILM FEST
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Even for audience members who are unfamiliar with this true story, the gnawing intensity is almost overwhelming. In this taut Australian drama, writer-director Justin Kurzel uses close-up camerawork to plunge us fully into the perspective of the central character, who is played with offhanded honesty by Caleb Landry Jones. Without apologising for his actions, the film pointedly generates sympathy for this outsider, exposing the dangers of simplistic opinions.
In 1990s Tasmania, Nitram (Jones) is an oddball who is teased and bullied by everyone. Even his parents (Judy Davis and LaPaglia) struggle to cope with his quirks, although they try to be patient. But his bursts of antisocial energy are beyond awkward. Then he finds a friend in eccentric wealthy neighbour Helen (Essie Davis), who sees him as compassionate and considerate, but doesn't like his obsession with explosives and guns. Bristling against insults from everyone around him, Nitram focusses his rage on the new owners of a property his father wanted to buy.
Contrasting sunny seaside location with the plot's darker internal gyrations, Kurzel holds the interest by continually dropping hints about what's coming. On the surface, the loose-limbed, lively Nitram seems harmless enough, although he also seems unable to spot when he's putting others in danger, such as setting off fireworks at a school or jokingly grabbing Helen's steering wheel while on a highway. This creates a narrative that's perhaps too tidy in explaining what happens later, but it also raises powerful insight.
Jones is excellent as a young man who marches to his own beat and doesn't understand why everyone hates him. He may have no filter, but he isn't malicious, so we feel the sting of each sideways glare and verbal provocation. Playing his parents, Judy Davis and LaPaglia offer extremely textured performances as people who love their son but don't have a clue how to help him. And Essie Davis' Helen is an unusual woman whose open-handed acceptance reveals deeper implications.
There's a brave intentionality behind this film, cutting through the usual noise to get to the root of a tragic event. What the film unearths is an endemic texture of unseen bigotry running right through every society, pushing anyone even slightly unusual into the margins. While this may seem like an easy explanation, it also carries a strong kick of meaning, pointing to a series of dangers that evolve out of this same seemingly acceptable injustice, both in society and within our own families.
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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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