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The Crack Magazine

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Film of the Month: Nitram

Director: Justin Kurzel

Stars: Caleb Landry Jones, Judy Davis, Essie Davis, Anthony LaPaglia, Sean Keenan

Australian director Kurzel and screenwriter collaborator Shaun Grant return to the scuzzy antipodean suburbs of their debut ‘The Snowtown Murders’ for this horribly compelling but sensitively-handled retelling of the Port Arthur Massacre that took place in Tasmania in 1996. It starts with real life 80s news footage in which a teenage boy, bloodied after a firework accident, is questioned whether he would play with fireworks again. ‘Yes’ he answers blithely. Cut to the mid-90s where the grownup version of that child ‘Nitram’ (Jones), his real name Martin spelt backwards as a dig at his learning difficulties, is letting fireworks off in the garden, much to the annoyance of neighbours and local pets. His chain-smoking mother (Judy Davis) disapproves, but seems too ground down and weary to do anything, while his father (LaPaglia) is clearly depressed. Heavily medicated with vacant eyes hidden beneath a dirty blonde fringe, Nitram struggles to make friends, although he does manage to momentarily strike up a friendship with amiable dopey local surfer dude (Keenan). Then he meets Helen (Essie Davis), a wildly eccentric ‘Grey Gardens’-style widowed heiress and Gilbert and Sullivan devotee who lives in a kitschy ornate house. He moves in and they have a relationship of sorts, but her largesse leads to tragedy. Kurzel maintains a feeling of clammy dread throughout, never trying to elicit sympathy for Nitram, but effectively illustrating how years of parental neglect and state indifference have taken their toll, while cinematographer Germain McMicking’s skilful handheld camerawork keeps us uncomfortably close to the spiralling protagonist. Sporting a spot-on Aussie accent, a vanity-free Landry Jones is horribly convincing as the young man whose psychological state is left to fester.

David Willoughby

Follow David on Twitter @DWill_Crackfilm

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