EVEN THE RAVENS HAVE THE JUDG­MEN­TAL EYES OF OLD MEN IN A BEATEN PUB

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - The Bro­ken Shore,

ONE of the ironies of adap­ta­tions of suc­cess­ful nov­els for the screen is that film­mak­ers of­ten seem less than en­thu­si­as­tic about main­tain­ing the spirit of the source ma­te­rial. Of­ten just one as­pect sur­vives: a char­ac­ter, a plot out­line, or per­haps a sense of place.

Hap­pily for fans, crime nov­els have proved to be the hearti­est of literary species, able to sur­vive all man­ner of trans­plants. Thank­fully, this is the case with this faith­ful and be­guil­ing adap­ta­tion of Peter Tem­ple’s bound­ary­de­fy­ing, stand-alone novel The Bro­ken Shore.

Which is just as well: the prodi­giously ta­lented South African-born Tem­ple hap­pens to be one of the world’s most re­spected literary crime nov­el­ists, with a bag of prizes to prove it. The Bro­ken Shore picked up the pres­ti­gious Gold Dag­ger award of the Crime Writ­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (UK) in 2007; his next novel, Truth, landed Aus­tralia’s most cov­eted literary prize, the Miles Franklin, in 2010.

Pro­duced by An­drew Knight and Ian Col­lie for Es­sen­tial Me­dia & En­ter­tain­ment and per­sua­sively di­rected by Rowan Woods, The Bro­ken Shore is a mas­ter­ful piece of TV drama. It’s an evoca­tive thriller of fam­ily and place set against a back­ground of po­lice cor­rup­tion, racism and the horror of pe­dophilia.

Mind you, Col­lie (who some­how pro­duced the Tom Hanks fea­ture Sav­ing Mr Banks at the same time) and Knight should have a han­dle on Tem­ple by now. Last year they suc­cess­fully brought to the screen two of his Jack Ir­ish nov­els for the ABC, Bad Debts and Black Tide, fea­tur­ing Tem­ple’s se­rial hero, the crim­i­nal lawyer, gam­bler, bar­racker, fixer, peo­plefinder, debt col­lec­tor and part-time cab­i­net­maker Ir­ish, played so well by Guy Pearce. (A third, Dead Point, is to air this year.)

Ir­ish is one of crime lit­er­a­ture’s great com­plex char­ac­ters — hard and sar­don­ically amus­ing. He ap­peared in nov­els that were as good as crime fic­tion any­where, books with a ca­pac­ity for sub­tle po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural com­ment, a weath­ered con­cern for the dis­par­ity be­tween law and jus­tice, and a pas­sion for some sort of or­der in so­cial chaos. And the producers did him proud, de­light­ing Tem­ple’s many fans by play­ing it pretty straight. There was no mess­ing with Tem­ple’s form and no half-baked at­tempt to ‘‘ reimag­ine’’ the nov­els in post­mod­ern fash­ion, al­ter their set­tings or lose or over­state the wry hu­mour.

‘‘ I am drawn to the sparse and the dry, and the idea that if you con­cen­trate you can do pow­er­ful things with a few sticks and bones,’’ Tem­ple once said. And Knight’s adap­ta­tion of The Bro­ken Shore again trans­poses the au­thor’s hard, brit­tle po­etic style pre­cisely, find­ing a vis­ual cor­rel­a­tive for his sparse, de­tached, elided lan­guage.

Un­like many of his con­tem­po­raries, Tem­ple keeps his sim­i­les and metaphors sim­ple, neatly tai­lored en­hance­ments of at­mos­phere, but his moral se­ri­ous­ness has such fo­cus he con­verts ideas into sharply ob­served de­tails. That’s what Knight gets so right, let­ting the mise en scene speak for it­self in a won­der­fully foam at the vi­o­lent heart of the Bro­ken Shore of the ti­tle.

Tem­ple’s imag­i­nary towns are some­where at the bot­tom of Vic­to­ria, the land naked be­fore the south east­er­lies and wild win­ter gales off the South­ern Ocean. And the film was evoca­tively shot by the AFI-win­ning cin­e­matog­ra­pher Martin McGrath, largely around Vic­to­ria’s Port Camp­bell Na­tional Park re­gion, in­clud­ing Port Fairy where south­ern right whales breach off the coast coast dur­ing the win­ter months.

Ev­ery­thing in the path of the whipped-up winds leans to lee­ward, with only the hard­core left in the coastal towns: the un­em­ployed; re­cidi­vist junkies do­ing the lo­cal shops; and the drunk; even the ravens have the judg­men­tal eyes of old men in a beaten pub.

Cashin be­friends a stoic swag­man (Dan Wyl­lie) who be­gins to help him re­con­struct the once grand blue­stone palace of a house his great-grand­fa­ther’s brother built, the fam­ily home he dy­na­mited to the ground.

When Charles Bour­goyne (Ralph Cot­ter­ill) cin­e­matic piece of writ­ing, su­perbly re­alised by Wood’s de­cep­tively un­der­stated di­rec­tion.

In­jured Mel­bourne homi­cide de­tec­tive Joe Cashin, played by Don Hany with that now dis­tinc­tive aching vul­ner­a­bil­ity — the rea­son the hearts of fe­male fans flut­ter so fran­ti­cally on meet­ing him — is on er­satz work­ing leave. He’s prob­a­bly out to grass, if the truth be known, af­ter a big city in­ves­ti­ga­tion went bad, his for­mer part­ner dead and buried. On a men­tal health sab­bat­i­cal, he’s play­ing the lo­cal coun­try cop, back in his old haunts around Ken­mare, Cro­marty and Port Monro, where he grew up.

His mem­o­ries of the peren­nial sum­mers, school­yard al­liances, dal­liances and first kisses are clouded by the death of his fa­ther Mick, who com­mit­ted sui­cide at the Ket­tle, the surg­ing place of grey-green wa­ter skeined with is bru­tally mur­dered, the city cop finds him­self grop­ing blindly through of a se­ries of hor­rors. Cen­tral to his in­ves­ti­ga­tions are three boys from the nearby Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity and a tragic camp for chil­dren run by a group called the Moral Com­pan­ions in 1977 at Port Monro Heights.

As a de­tec­tive Cashin is me­thod­i­cal, ob­ses­sive and in­stinc­tive, but melan­choly, the spir­i­tual curse of Cashin’s fam­ily, hov­ers around him, along with the in­sis­tent pain of his in­juries. (Tem­ple once con­fided to me that Cashin is ac­tu­ally the name of a well-known Mel­bourne fam­ily of un­der­tak­ers.) ‘‘ He had said a mil­lion mantras, against pain, against thought, against mem­ory, against the night that would not sur­ren­der its dark,’’ is the way Tem­ple de­scribes it in the novel — but Hany does it with that sad squint-eyed look, still so fa­mil­iar to any­one who saw per­for­mance in East West 101.

Hany is es­pe­cially good here, col­lab­o­rat­ing with Tem­ple’s Joe Cashin, re­ally, an in­sep­a­ra­ble fu­sion of fact and fic­tion, a kind of tele­pathic ex­change tak­ing place. None of our other lead­ing ac­tors, ex­cept pos­si­bly Richard Roxburgh and Colin Friels, com­bines both tech­nique and pres­ence to the same de­gree.

His is a com­mit­ted yet sub­tle per­for­mance of a man go­ing for­wards while look­ing back, for­ever as­sailed by the sour smells of homi­cide, a man look­ing for a home, look­ing for a fa­ther.

The sur­round­ing en­sem­ble cast is classy as well, real star power on dis­play, each with an iden­ti­fi­able film per­sona that con­tin­ues be­yond their many roles in TV and cin­ema.

Claudia Kar­van has just the right jit­tery in­tel­li­gence for He­len Castle­man, an im­pul­sive for­mer cor­po­rate lawyer who has re­turned to the com­mu­nity in which she grew up and has bought the farm next to Cashin’s. Born into priv­i­lege, she wears en­ti­tle­ment eas­ily. She once planted a kiss on the cop when they were young but now ap­proaches lo­cal jus­tice is­sues with fer­vour. An­thony Hayes, good in both An­i­mal King­dom and Devil’s Dust, is so vilely con­vinc­ing as the hos­tile Se­nior De­tec­tive Rock Hop­good, boss of the lo­cal crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion unit, he makes you squirm and feel un­easy. He’s charis­matic, ar­ro­gant and charm­ingly bel­liger­ent and, like so many con­ser­va­tives, hides his prej­u­dice be­hind a dis­dain for po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness.

Noni Ha­zle­hurst is Sy­bil Cashin, Joe’s stoic mother, bat­tered and bruised by the death of her hus­band, her face show­ing ev­ery hurt. Ha­zle­hurst now reminds me a lit­tle of Judi Dench — she’s both the most and least con­trived of ac­tors.

And bluff Erik Thom­son is a rev­e­la­tion as In­spec­tor Stephen Vil­lani, the head of Homi­cide in Mel­bourne, Cashin’s boss be­fore the ac­ci­dent that forced his Port Monro sab­bat­i­cal. So en­gag­ing for years in Packed to the Rafters, Thom­son makes Vil­lani an at­trac­tively vig­or­ous per­son­al­ity, hu­man enough to be lik­able and brave enough to be ad­mirable.

Let the nov­el­ist have the fi­nal word, and as al­ways he’s sharp and brief. He tells me: ‘‘ I think Es­sen­tial Me­dia have done a ter­rific job with TBS — great writ­ers, great cast, re­ally in­tel­li­gent di­rec­tion and photography.’’

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The Bro­ken Shore

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