Acute Misfortune

MIFF Acute Misformation film stillHaving painted murderers and psychopaths, Adam Cullen’s success in the art world is owed in part to his fascination with the deranged that borders on obsessive.

In Acute Misfortune, Director Thomas M. Wright explores the real-life relationship had between Archibald Prize-winning artist Adam Cullen (Daniel Henshall) and Erik Jensen (Toby Wallace); a then 19-year-old journalist hired by Cullen to write his biography.

Though not serving to romanticise mental illness, Acute Misfortunes willingness to explore the extremes of Cullen’s struggle with addiction, transgressions and bipolar disorder remains confronting throughout.

Wright never misses an opportunity to bring out Cullen’s derangement, exemplifying this in both an exceptional performance from Henshall – balancing Cullen’s outbursts with his desire to be admired – but in scenery that reads as wild as the painter himself.

Cullen’s relationship with Jensen, who in real life serves as the screenwriter for the film, is as twisted as the lacerations that exist on Cullen’s torso. The real-life-Jensen’s involvement within Acute Misfortune makes it difficult to delineate Cullen’s struggle, resulting in the film occasionally losing focus due the continuous shift backs to the experiences had by Jensen.

Wallace’s portrayal of Jensen – acting as a sounding board for Cullen to express his existential-pessimist-gospel – demonstrates sound skills from the young actor. Wallace does experience some issues in convincingly delivering the material, feeling as unintentionally overwhelmed by the material as his character feels when interviewing Cullen.

The grim dynamic had between the two leads, if not heavy on the cathartic dialogue, is where Acute Misfortune finds its success as a study on one of the most controversial figures in the Australian art scene.


Acute Misfortune screens nationally from Thursday 16 May 2019. For more information, visit: www.acutemisfortune.com for details.

Image: Acute Misfortune (film still)

Review: Hagan Osborne

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