(SAMSON AND DELILAH)
Ewen Leslie, Sam Neill, Hamilton Morris, Bryan Brown, Matt Day, Gibson John, Tremayne Doolan, Trevon Doolan, Natassia Gorey-Furber and Thomas M. Wright
This acclaimed Australian film from director Warwick Thornton, a Camera d’Or Award Winner at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival for his debut feature film SAMSON AND DELILAH, has and continues to gain strong recognition at home and abroad. Its most significant award wins from late last year include the Asia Pacific Screen Award for Best Film, the Platform Prize at the Toronto International Film Festival and it was also the Special Jury Prize Winner at the Venice Film Festival.
Inspired by a true story that was told to Thornton by the grandfather of co-writer David Tranter, SWEET COUNTRY is filmed and set in the Australian outback during the 1920s. Local landowner and Christian preacher, Fred Smith (Sam Neill) lends his indigenous farmhand, Sam (Hamilton Morris) to ex-war veteran and cattle station owner, Harry March (Ewen Leslie), for a couple of days to help him finish works on his land. As Harry’s behaviour turns increasingly threatening and soon becomes violent towards his helper, Sam fatally wounds his aggressor in an act of self-defence. Knowing all too well that he is in major trouble for killing a white man, Sam and his wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber) go on the run. Seeking justice for the death of Harry is Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown), who scours the dry and dangerous landscape in scorching conditions in pursuit of the wanted man.
Lo and behold, what we have here in SWEET COUNTRY is a masterful work of striking authenticity and raw storytelling. Our country has home-grown a healthy number of films that boast these characteristics, but rarely at the consistently high standard so prevalent in this ‘meat-pie’ Western.
Filmed in the Macdonnell Ranges near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, director and cinematographer Warwick Thornton stunningly photographs the breathtaking locations, making them just as prominent as the films’ characters. Of particular note, the entire sequence that depicts Sergeant Fletcher‘s pursuit of the wanted man is abundant with images beautiful enough to hang on your lounge-room wall. As far as cinematic productions go, they don’t get much better than SWEET COUNTRY. This exceptional work of dramatic art is one that all Australians can and ought to take pride in, even though its story isn’t one anyone can be proud to tell.
Moving across now to its narrative, viewers should be aware that SWEET COUNTRY is told at a relatively gradual pace and features a high number of more drawn-out scenes. Once accustomed to its slower tempo and as major incidents occur, an overwhelming sense of appreciation for the fine storytelling and top-notch quality of movie-making on display sets in and stays. A highly commendable attribute of the writing involves the multi-dimensional characterisation of the film, which removes all instant labelling away from its protagonists and antagonists. At the same time, the themes of this movie are never sacrificed or lost, proving SWEET COUNTRY to be an all-round stand-out motion picture our country has produced in recent years.
4 ½ stars
MA15+ (Strong violence)
Moviedoc thanks Transmission Films for the invite to the screening of this film.
Review by Moviedoc / “LIKE” on Facebook – Moviedoc