Spooky tale’s twists and turns

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

ution than writer-di­rec­tor Lliam Wor­thing­ton’s ver­sion. Yet Wor­thin­gon achieves a very great deal on a tiny bud­get. The cred­its in­form us that the in­te­ri­ors were shot in Ka­toomba’s ven­er­a­ble Carrington Ho­tel, while the ex­te­ri­ors we see of the Taj Ma­hal Ho­tel it­self are ei­ther stock footage or news­reel cov­er­age.

Wor­thing­ton con­cen­trates on a small hand­ful of ho­tel guests: an Irish back­packer (Joseph Michael Tay­lor); an Aus­tralian cou­ple (Nathan Kaye and Martelle Ham­mer); a Chi­nese man; an Amer­i­can evan­ge­list; sib­lings and their guardian; and an el­derly In­dian (Sukhraj Deepak) and his young grand­daugh­ter, Atiya (Mi­hika Rao). When the shoot­ings start be­low, the fright­ened guests lock them­selves into two rooms on one of the ho­tel’s top floors.

Out of the most ba­sic ma­te­rial, Wor­thin­gon builds con­sid­er­able sus­pense as the 10 ter­ror­ists, mem­bers of Lashkar-e-Toiba, armed with AK-47s and grenades, prowl the ho­tel cor­ri­dors in search of vic­tims who have no idea of what’s hap­pen­ing or whether help is com­ing. The killers are be­ing di­rected by “The Han­dler”, an omi­nous fa­natic based in Pak­istan and seen only in out-of-fo­cus im­ages, who gives or­ders by phone.

The mem­bers of the gen­er­ally ex­cel­lent en­sem­ble cast were al­most en­tirely fresh faces Ghost Sto­ries, One Less God, for me, which adds to the au­then­tic­ity of the drama. And we are given grim re­minders of the sac­ri­fices made by the ho­tel staff, many of whom died at­tempt­ing to pro­tect their guests.

The film has its flaws — an un­nec­es­sary pro­logue set dur­ing a fes­ti­val, some awk­ward char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion, a pro­tracted run­ning time — but over­all it’s a con­sid­er­able achieve­ment, and de­serves far wider ex­po­sure than it’s likely to get.

The prob­lem with Book Week is that its pro­tag­o­nist, mid­dle-aged school­teacher Nick Cut­ler (Alan Dukes), is not a very like­able char­ac­ter. His pupils hate him and no won­der: he’s self-ab­sorbed, bad-tem­pered, and un­faith­ful. Not, in fact, the ideal fo­cus for a com­edy, though this is not the fault of the actor.

For­tu­nately the sup­port­ing cast pro­vides plenty of plea­sures, not least Tiriel Mora as the school’s bom­bas­tic head­mas­ter, Rose Byrne looka­like Air­lie Dodds as a prac teacher with whom Nick spends a drunken night, and Rhys Mul­doon as our hero’s lit­er­ary agent.

These and some of the other pe­riph­eral char­ac­ters are good com­pany at times when Nick him­self ir­ri­tates, which is of­ten.

Heath Davis di­rected and does a very com­pe­tent job in every depart­ment, ex­cept for the fact that he ob­vi­ously wants us to love the de­cid­edly unlov­able pro­tag­o­nist. Ja­panese com­poser, po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist and oc­ca­sional actor Ryuichi Sakamoto is pro­filed in Coda, a most in­ter­est­ing doc­u­men­tary by Stephen No­mura Schi­ble. Filmed over a num­ber of years, while Sakamoto was be­ing treated for can­cer, the film re­veals noth­ing what­so­ever about his back­ground or per­sonal life but con­cen­trates on his the­o­ries about mu­sic, his in­flu­ences, and his many projects.

He talks about com­pos­ing “in­tri­cate sound­scapes” and is heav­ily in­flu­enced by the films of the great Rus­sian di­rec­tor An­drei Tarkovsky, whose mas­terly So­laris (1972) is a touch­stone for him. (“I want to make mu­sic with the spirit of a Tarkovsky sound­track,” he ex­plains.)

Movie clips in­clude Merry Christ­mas Mr. Lawrence (Nag­isa Oshima, 1983), in which Sakamoto played a Ja­panese sol­dier and for which he com­posed a mem­o­rable score, The Last Em­peror (Bernardo Ber­tolucci, 1987), The Shel­ter­ing Sky (Ber­tolucci, 1990), and The Revenant (Ale­jan­dro Gon­za­lez Inar­ritu, 2015).

While de­scrib­ing the sto­ries be­hind the cre­ation of the mu­sic scores for these films, and of his other work, Sakamoto is con­sis­tently charm­ing and in­for­ma­tive and Schi­ble’s doc­u­men­tary — while not par­tic­u­larly well shot — is a very use­ful in­sight into the work of a ma­jor com­poser.

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