Director: Warwick Thornton
Stars: Sam Neill, Bryan Brown, Hamilton Morris, Trevon Doolan, Tremayne Doolan, Ewen Leslie
The overdue follow-up to Aboriginal Australian writer-director Warwick Thornton’s affecting social realist romance Samson and Delilah is a brooding low-key ‘Western’ set in Australia’s Northern Territories in the late 1920s. It begins with liberal Christian preacher Fred Smith (Neill) welcoming his newly arrived neighbour Harry March (Leslie) to his homestead. As a gesture of goodwill, Smith lends the services of his stoic Aboriginal right-hand man, the portentously-named Sam Kelly (Morris) to March, a misguided act of generosity that March pays back by brutally raping Sam’s wife. Later when Kelly is sheltering a terrified half-caste child Philomac (played by twins Tremayne and Trevon Doolan), who has escaped after being chained to a rock, a brutal confrontation ensues resulting in a death. A trial follows in which the bigotry of the local town comes to the fore. Despite the presence of reliable old hands such as Neill and Bryan Brown, as a naively optimistic sergeant, it’s the newcomers who impress here, Morris in particular turning in a remarkably understated performance as Kelly, skilfully conveying how the natives’ communications in the presence of their oppressors is restricted to shorthand gesture and telling glances. The film features some memorable imagery (the opening shot of a boiling pot elegantly telegraphs the picture’s themes), while the stunning outback photography invests the story with a real epic grandeur. The stark feel is underlined by an absence of music throughout, save for a judiciously selected Johnny Cash track over the closing credits.