Film review: SWEET COUNTRY by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Sweet Country is the latest film from director Warwick Thornton who gave us one of the great Australian films of recent times, Sampson and Delilah. Confronting, powerful and visually startling, Sweet Country is almost as remarkable a piece of filmmaking as Sampson and Delilah, only falling short due to a slightly loose and rambling script.

Evoking films such as the Searchers, Sweet country is essentially an Australian western and in the tradition of Hollywood’s greatest westerns provides a potent social and political commentary on the present. The story of a clash between indigenous and white culture in the Australian outback in 1929 is still completely relevant for Australia today. Sweet Country also sits alongside films such as The Proposition and The Tracker as it probes the dark underbelly of Australia’s bush myth.

Hamilton Morris plays Sam Kelly an indigenous man who along with his wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey Furber) works for the kindly, decent if preachy Fred Smith (Sam Neill) on his outback cattle station in 1929. When an incident involving a drunken, crazed owner of a neighbouring station, results in a death, Sam and his wife become fugitives pursued across the exquisite but brutal landscape by the embittered and ruthless cop, Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown).

Sweet Country is a triumph on a number of levels. The cinematography (from Dylan River and Warwick Thornton) is astonishing; only Walkabout has equalled (in cinema) its pristine yet rugged and atmospheric vistas of the Australian outback, images that sometimes recall a Russell Drysdale painting. Thornton also transcends the film’s formal beauty to include post-modern touches including unsettling flashbacks and flash forwards that give the film an eerie sense of inescapable fate. One if it’s most impressive achievements, though, is the way it re-works western tropes and iconic images such as the famed Searchers door sequence to convey particular emotions and the threatening nature of this white-dominated outback culture.

The film also features remarkable performances from its wonderful cast. Hamilton Morris impressively makes the taciturn Sam a complex and enigmatic figure: dignified in his battle against seemingly impossible odds to clear his name but also threatening in his occasional violent outbursts. Bryan Brown is also terrific as Fletcher, a brutal artefact of the pre-World War One era who inflicts his damaged beliefs on those unfortunate enough to cross his path.

At times the pacing slows and the film seems to meander but it quickly regains its momentum and its powerful grip on the audience.

Sweet Country is another superb effort from one of Australia’s finest filmmaking talents.

Nick’s rating: ****1/2

Genre: Historical drama.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Warwick Thornton.

Release date: 25th Jan 2018.

Running time: 110 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.



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