This is a movie of contrasts: the romanticism of lead character, Tom (Michael Dorman), who dreams of a life on the road as a truckie owner-driver, vs the gruelling reality; the openness and youthful optimism of ‘gypsy’ Melissa (Emily Barclay) vs the hard-bitten cynicism of her embittered mother; the basic decency of honest, hardworking truckie Phil (William McInnes) vs the vicious opportunism of fellow driver/drug-pusher/loan shark Johnnie (Ben Mendelsohn).
The narrative is built around these contrasts – a yin/yang battle, if you like. Gifted pin-striping artist Tom is a sensitive, creative soul who is torn between the two loves of his life – Melissa, and his prime mover. This curious ménage a trois proves unworkable. With Melissa stuck out in the middle of nowhere living in a caravan with their baby, and Tom on the road day and night taking speed to stay awake as he fights a losing battle to earn enough to keep up the killing interest payments on his beloved truck and ward off the circling loan shark, something has to give…
David Caesar states he’s been wanting to make this movie for a long time. Perplexing, then, that an experienced filmmaker of his calibre didn’t make better use of the extended gestation period.
While his schemata of contrasts isn’t a bad bedrock on which to set his movie, he gets a little carried away on occasions. To wit, a ludicrous scene in which Tom prefaces the consummation of his relationship with Melissa with a request that she pose holding a big silver spanner. An attempt to meld his two loves? Something kinkier? Some stretched metaphor of contrast? Whatever, the image of the lad’s objet du désir with tool in hand misses the mark. Quirky, to be sure, but if humour was the intention (and you hope it was!), it misses the mark – it’s eye-rolling silly, rather than funny.
The script seems raw in parts, a couple of drafts short of ready, and in need of a ruthless editorial going-over. And I’m not talking about merely weeding out the odd bum line. There are some more serious flaws that needed to be addressed.
There are some surreal cinematographic effects, for instance, that seemed forced, almost gratuitous. Why, for example, is gypsy girl Melissa adorned from time to time in a sparkling coloured aura? Tom is head over heels in love with her, sure, but this is abundantly clear. Why labour the point with tacky effects? And if this is not the point, what is?
While on Melissa, since when are gypsies part of the Australian cultural landscape? Her vividly coloured hippie garb sets her apart from the blokey truckie mileu of the country town in which the movie is set (Dubbo) and projects her personality, so no issue there – but why not be done with it and make her a hippy (an endangered and now faintly ridiculous anachronism perhaps, but unlike gypsies, they do have a social presence in this country)?
So far-fetched is this gypsy thing that an explanation is scripted in. Melissa’s gypsy identity is her attempt to maintain some link with her long-estranged father – she has a childhood recollection of her mother referring to him as a gypsy when he deserted the family. When he turns up at her wedding (which is the first time she has seen him since he left) he is besuited, conservative in appearance and manner, and she realizes that her image of him is illusory. All a bit psychologically simplistic in my view.
Worse, though, is Melissa’s limp reaction to being reunited with her father. Here was an opportunity to give her character more depth, but the encounter is glossed over, adding to the suspicion that the reappearance of the father was merely a vehicle – a pretty clunky one – to explain Melissa’s gypsy identity.
Further, the dramatic time frame is not well handled. Tom is shown driving night and day, sustained by ever-increasing doses of amphetamines. Of course, many truckies resort to amphetamines to stay awake on their long hauls, but how long could a novice driver keep up the pace that Tom endures before physical collapse? And how long would it take for him to realize that the struggle is futile, that he will never be able to service the loan on his prime mover? Months, not years, I’d suggest. And indeed, there is a sense that the story takes place over months, yet towards the end of the movie Tom and Melissa’s baby daughter appears as a 2-3 year old.
OK, so the movie has its flaws, and doesn’t cohere well in parts, but there are some positives.
The actors deliver. No surprise there with McInnes and Mendelsohn, but it’s good to see young up-and-comers Dorman and Barclay more than carry their weight. Barclay, particularly, impresses with her charismatic screen presence.
There’s a truck chase that gets the adrenalin pumping. And a memorable nightmarish sequence in which Tom is hounded by his demons as he drives through the night on a lonely stretch of highway, hallucinating on speed and lack of sleep.
Overall, though, the movie doesn’t cohere well, and would have to rate as one of the lesser Australian releases in a year of generally terrific fare.
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