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dir Warwick Thornton
prd David Jowsey, Greer Simpkin
scr David Tranter, Steven McGregor
with Sam Neill, Hamilton Morris, Bryan Brown, Ewen Leslie, Thomas M Wright, Gibson John, Tremayne Doolan, Trevorn Doolan, Natassia Gorey Furber, Matt Day, Anni Finsterer
release Aus Oct.17 aiff, UK Oct.17 lff
Into the Outback: Furber and Morris
TORONTO FILM FEST
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With a gentle pace that echoes the rhythms of life in turn-of-the-century rural Australia, this slow-burning dramatic Western quietly creeps up on the audience. It offers deep themes and detailed characters, plus a vivid depiction of the clash between the Aboriginals and the European interlopers. The film's setting may echo other movies, but the tone is distinctly more internalised, exploring the true nature of justice in a seriously unfair place.
In the Northwest Territory, Fred (Neill) is an established farmer who has made peace with the locals, inviting his native farmhand Sam (Morris) to be part of his household. Nearby, ex-soldier Harry (Leslie) is a new arrival with very different views. When Sam kills Harry in self-defence, he understandably flees with his wife Lizzie (Furber), pursued by a posse that includes local military boss Fletcher (Brown), farmer Mick (Wright) and his farmhand Archie (John). As the chase enters tribal lands, things take another turn. And it's unlikely that Sam will get a fair trial.
As in Samson & Delilah, director Thornton quietly underscores the mixed nature of Aussie culture, although this film is set a century ago as attitudes toward Aboriginals began to change among colonists. The contrast between trigger-happy Europeans and more earthy locals is glaring, including the motivations for violence on both sides. Yes, just when the "noble savage" idea begins to swell, something happens to reset the balance. So the open-minded Fred maintains the equilibrium as an interloper who has gone native, and the quietly sober tone adds the weight of authenticity.
Performances are excellent. Neil's Fred might be a little too progressive, but his thoughtfulness is compelling. Brown brings rambunctious energy to a man who is refreshingly not stupid, while Leslie and Wright offer simpler, edgier loners. The most complex characters are those played by Morris and John, skilled men whose lives have been spent in subservience to thugs, so it's no wonder that they prefer not to answer a point-blank question.
larger issues threatening to overwhelm the plot, it's easy to miss the telling details. But Thornton never rushes, maintaining an appropriate meandering pace punctuated with explosive, sometimes shocking moments. As it settles into an extended trial sequence, the deeper themes emerge about how difficult it is to find justice when one party has all the money and power at their disposal. Surely this is a feeling 99 percent of the planet today knows all too well.
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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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