Triumph is bittersweet
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.