There’s a bit of a buzz about Aussie cinema at the moment, a sense that we may be in the early stages of a resurgence after years in the wilderness. This may or may not be the case. A lot of the optimism is doubtless attributable to influential At The Movies duo David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz, who have bestowed rave reviews on several 2009 Australian releases – Samson and Delilah, My Year Without Sex and Last Ride – and smiled benevolently upon others such as the Perth-based production Two Fists, One Heart (which I also reviewed favourably – see here).
I await with interest The Duo’s appraisal of new South Australian release Lucky Country. Not that I take much notice of dear old David and Margaret – on the contrary. My interest here is in whether they join the gaggle of online critics gushing with praise for this antipodean Western, which in my view is a barker through and through. I suspect there’s an optimism virus infecting those aboard the Aussie-cinema-resurgence bandwagon. I’m curious as to whether the two senior drivers of the wagon exhibit the shit-detector-failure symptoms of their passengers.
So, vot you goink on about, Rolan? Vot schtink so bad about dis Lucky Country, eh?
The Christian fundamentalist frontierman, stupidly and stubbornly trusting in God to provide for his family in inhospitable country that has taken the life of his wife. Signs of rebellion from his two children, 12 year old Tom and adolescent Sarah. The arrival of a group of bad dudes with gold fever. One of them’s a cad who looms as a threat to Sarah’s virginity. Another’s a rough diamond alcoholic, while the leader is badness incorporated. Sound familiar?
Worst of all the cliches, though, is the depiction (yet again) of the Aussie bush as a place of menace and foreboding. Since Weir’s masterful Picnic At Hanging Rock, film-makers in this country have been obsessed with the Aussie bush as alien entity, sinister presence, hostile force. Weir captured this brilliantly in Hanging Rock, but how many more times do we need to be presented with this now tiresome proposition that we’re not wanted here, that the bush is seeking to eject us, that we stay on only at our physical and metaphysical peril? It’s been done to death, boys! Do it differently or don’t do it at all!
Most irritating is the director’s constant and ham-fisted signalling to the audience via clumsy hand-held overhead shots that the bush is ever-present, lurking as some vague malevolent force. Time and time again, the camera whirls about the bush and sky from the POV of (mostly) poor God-forsaken Aden Young, whose haunted eyes search for…what? The Blair Witch? Fuck me! Got the point the first time, boys…and I recall it well enough from Picnic At Hanging Rock, in any case. Talk about hard labour. Enough of bushy alienation ferchissake!
The characters are American Western cutouts displaced to the Aussie bush. And the narrative is confused, departing from the standard format you might expect in a Hollywood film, but wandering off in an unconvincing, improbable and ultimately unsatisfying direction in the last third of the movie. It’s as if the writer was determined to loose himself from the confines of standard dramatic form without knowing what to do once he was out there on his own.
And as for the farcical three-way shootout in which all three bad guys cop a bullet…give us a break!
You know, I could have forgiven all the above and more if only I had felt something for any of the characters. I didn’t. The actors weren’t to blame. Aden Young aside, the performances were good. But when a work is as ill-conceived as this, when a story is built hollow and gets lost on its way to who ever knew where, and bores the viewer silly in the process – well, you just want it to end, doncha?
It’s got my nomination for dog of the year so far, having displaced The Boat That Rocked…and that’s a sad indictment indeed.
For other Boomtown Rap movie reviews, see Movie Review Archives