Tri­umph is bit­ter­sweet

Sunday News - - SOUND AND VISION -

This is a tale that draws you in with its colour­ful char­ac­ters and grips, haunts and outrages with its sce­nar­ios and in­jus­tices.

Sweet Coun­try (R16) 113 mins GOD-FEAR­ING Fred Smith (Sam Neill) has al­ways run Black Hill Sta­tion by the ‘‘good book’’.

Un­like many of his neigh­bours in the Aus­tralian Out­back in the late 1920s, there’s no drink­ing or smok­ing on the prop­erty and ‘‘we’re all equal here in the eye of the Lord’’.

So when re­turn­ing sol­dier Harry March (Ewen Les­lie) turns up swig­ging al­co­hol and ask­ing Fred ‘‘where he got his black stock from’’, a school­ing is in or­der.

How­ever, when Harry tells Fred that let­ting him bor­row his right-hand man Sam Kelly (Hamil­ton Morris) and fam­ily would be the ‘‘Chris­tian thing to do’’ a re­luc­tant agree­ment is reached.

It’s a de­ci­sion though that sets in mo­tion a night­mar­ish 48 hours.

Once they are on his prop­erty, Harry pro­ceeds to abuse his tem­po­rary help in what ever way he can.

And just when the Kellys think their tor­ment is over, Harry fol­lows them back to Black Hill, on the hunt for an Abo­rig­i­nal boy from an­other sta­tion he claims stole a watch.

Threat­en­ing vi­o­lence, Harry calls on Sam to pro­duce the boy or face the con­se­quences.

When Sam fails to de­liver, Harry be­gins open­ing fire, Sam re­turn­ing vol­ley with a sin­gle shot that stops Harry in his tracks.

With no Fred around to act as wit­ness or char­ac­ter ref­er­ence, Sam makes the de­ci­sion to go on the run.

Once word that a black fella has killed a white man hits the nearby town, a hunt­ing party is quickly formed – led by nonon­sense Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown).

Hav­ing re­turned from the city, Fred is also ea­ger to join the riders, if only be­cause he wants to see Sam ‘‘come back alive’’.

From a beau­ti­ful, lyri­cal open­ing scene sim­ply in­volv­ing a dark bub­bling pot and evoca­tive au­dio to its dev­as­tat­ing de­noue­ment, War­wick Thorn­ton’s Aussie western is a tri­umph of taut sto­ry­telling and vis­ual flair.

Like his 2009 heart­break­ing con­tem­po­rary drama Sam­son& Delilah, this is a tale that draws you in with its colour­ful char­ac­ters and grips, haunts and outrages with its sce­nar­ios and in­jus­tices.

There are echoes of the best Ser­gio Leone and John Ford in Steven McGregor (TV’s Red­fern Now) and sound-recordist-turned­screen­writer David Tran­ter’s drama (in­spired by a real-life in­ci­dent), while Thorn­ton isn’t afraid to mix vis­ceral deaths with a touch of wry hu­mour (a court­room is erected in the same open-air space that just screened The Story of the Kelly Gang, with the lo­cals re­act­ing to pro­ceed­ings in ex­actly the same way both times).

Throw in one of the most evoca­tive sound­tracks not to ac­tu­ally fea­ture a mu­si­cal score and quite bril­liant mem­o­ryin­duced dream­like-esque flash­backs and the re­sult is one of the most mem­o­rable cin­e­matic out­ings you’ll have in 2018.

– James Croot

Sam Neill and Bryan Brown are the old hands on deck in Sweet Coun­try.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.