The Australian film industry is in safe hands if director Warwick Thornton continues to produce fine works like this one. Billed as a classic western it surpasses the stereotypical good and evil plot line to expose the realms and measure of good and bad motivations found in everyone. Sweet Country was an unexpected triumph to view.
Disregard your fears of being assaulted by an Australian film filled with gruelling trauma. Thornton tells stories that need to be told about our shared Australian history which are entertaining, challenging and moving. The film is set following the First World War in the isolation of the outback near Alice Springs.
Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris) is indigenous worker who is ‘loaned’ out to pastoralist Harry March (Ewen Leslie) by a genial and Christian landowner Fred Smith (Sam Neill). Things turn sour quickly as the violent and bigoted Harry March abuses his power over Sam and rapes his wife.
Harry is seen treating his dog better than he treats the indigenous people. Harry then becomes enraged when another indigenous boy named Philomac attempts to steal from him and is chained up, only to escape. The ensuing chase for Philomac brings tragic outcomes for everyone in the community.
Bryan Brown plays the lawman of the town, Sergeant Fletcher with a commanding performance. His dogged pursuit of Sam Kelly through the desert terrain serves to underpin the Indigenous people’s intimate knowledge of the land. The desert landscape becomes a character in its own right, as the beauty of the night sky fills the screen.
Along with the colours of the outback as far as the eye can see. At one point the lawman says in almost a lament ‘this is sweet country’, but a country he knows little of. The film opens a door to a new understanding of the sense of place by all who live there.
Director Warwick Thornton uses actors local to the area and there are some fine stoic performances. The young boy Philomac becomes a symbol of the indigenous peoples struggle to belong in both worlds, those of his ancestors and the relentless colonials arriving on the land.
This is a film without the usual gimmicks. There is no swirling musical score to manipulate the audience emotions. Instead the story plays out with the backing of those huge big skies and red dirt land. The Indigenous people are seen as struggling survivors. It may be set in the 1920’s but the themes strongly resonate to our times. Deserves to be seen by a wide range audience.
Released by Transmission Films, Sweet Country screens nationally. For more information, visit: www.transmissionfilms.com.au for details.
Image: Sam Neill, Hamilton Morris and Bryan Brown star in Sweet Country – courtesy of Transmission Films
Review: Jenny Esots – courtesy of All About Entertainment