The Chronicle



No one wants much to do with Martin Bryant – even before he commits his heinous crime. Except, that is, for Bryant’s father, Maurice, a lonely heiress named Helen, and Justin Kurzel, a director who chooses to spend a lot of his screen time with the sort of real-life characters most of us go out of our way to avoid.

In some ways, Nitram is even harder to sit through than Kurzel’s breakthrou­gh film, Snowtown, which retained some elements of the crime drama, even though the events of April 2829, 1996, happen entirely off screen.

This version of Bryant’s story focuses on the years leading up to the Port Arthur massacre.

Kurzel asks you to spend almost two hours in the close company of a truculent and extremely troubled misfit. He refuses to romanticis­e, demonise or psychoanal­yse his subject. And he never once passes judgment.

But nor does he understate Bryant’s toxicity.

In one shocking scene, the man-boy’s complex response to Maurice’s debilitati­ng depression manifests in an explosive rage towards his father.

Bryant’s impulse to grab the wheel of the car while his only friend, Helen, is driving along the highway at 80 kilometres per hour is even more discombobu­lating.

His response to the devastatin­g consequenc­es of his actions is simply unfathomab­le.

The ambivalenc­e Carleen Bryant feels towards her son makes a lot of emotional sense in such a context. But the filmmakers also suggest that the hard-as-nails battler plays an integral role in her family’s dysfunctio­nal dynamic.

Bryant’s experience of school bullying is conveyed in a similarly economical but powerful manner. Like this film or loathe it, no one can accuse Nitram (Martin spelt backwards) of a lack of nuance.

Kurzel’s assured direction and Shaun Grant’s accomplish­ed screenwrit­ing aside, the film’s success rests squarely on the shoulders of Caleb Landry Jones, who delivers a performanc­e of rare integrity as Bryant. In an unlikely but inspired piece of casting, the Texan actor simultaneo­usly invites and repels empathy.

He holds our attention with a kind of stubborn restraint, but he can switch from dead-eyed vulnerabil­ity to dangerous volatility in an instant.

Judy Davis is as uncompromi­sing as ever as Carleen. It’s left to Essie Davis, who plays Tattersall’s heiress Helen Mary Elizabeth Harvey, and Anthony LaPaglia, in what may well be his best performanc­e to date, as Maurice, to provide the film with what little softness it has.

Nitram tells a difficult story without fear or favour. It doesn’t even try to offer a resolution.

We’re going to have to sit with that for a while.

Now showing in cinemas

 ?? Picture: Supplied ?? Caleb Landry Jones in a scene from Nitram.
Picture: Supplied Caleb Landry Jones in a scene from Nitram.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia