NITRAM follows the story of an odd and difficult child (Caleb Landry-Jones) who lives with his father (Anthony LaPaglia) and mother (Judy Davis) in suburban Hobart in the mid-nineties. He has a strained relationship with his parents and no close friends.
In adulthood Nitram struggles to connect to anyone, even close family members. Through a chance encounter he meets a wealthy and reclusive heiress named Helen (Essie Davis). He forms a connection with Helen, but it remains unclear what her motivation is for the friendship with Nitram.
The friendship meets a tragic end which leads Nitram into an aimless time of self-destruction and then onto carry out one of the most abhorrent of acts in Australia’s history.
Throughout the film there is a profound sense of unease around Nitram (Martin spelt backwards) as his random erratic behaviour escalates following the death of his wealthy friend Helen, and the depression and subsequent suicide of his father.
This film has caused much controversy in first getting funding and now on release. NITRAM is based on the life of Martin Bryant who carried out the Port Arthur massacre in April 1996, however the film at no stage depicts the massacre and concentrates on the events leading up to this sickening and tragic event.
The film’s director Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) has stated that the purpose of the film is not to glorify violence but to focus on the issue of gun violence. The focus is made clearer in the closing credits that outline the lax laws that allowed ‘Nitram’ to purchase high caliber semi-automatic weapons without the need for a gun licence.
The film also explores the human condition of a troubled individual that authorities, family and medical staff had no answer for, except medication, which had a limited effect.
Caleb Landry-Jones (Get Out, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) won the 2021 Cannes Best Actor award for this role. He presents Nitram as variously insolent, angry and confused and at times with quiet menace. The rest of the cast provides strong backup in supporting roles.
Judy Davis as the mother is in survival mode and provides a character study in repressed emotion as does Anthony LaPaglia who fights a losing battle to care for his wayward adult son.
This film is aimed at an international audience who value unflinching film making of our shared dark history. There is no gratuitous violence or sensationalism of the tragic event, but it remains a troubling film that stays with the viewer.
The film is not intended to absolve the perpetrator of the massacre but does examine the strange mix of circumstances that led to it. This is brave film making that deserves to be seen by a wider audience than it will likely receive.
NITRAM is now showing in the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. Reopening date for New South Wales cinemas 11 October. Coming to State Cinema Hobart 14 October. Australian Capitol Territory and Victoria dates to be confirmed. Check location opening dates and session times at cinema websites. For more information, visit: www.madmanfilms.com.au for details.
Image: Caleb Landry-Jones in NITRAM (film still)
Review: Jenny Esots – courtesy of All About Entertainment