Directed by | Warwick Thornton
Produced by | Greer Simpkin, David Jowsey
Written by | David Tranter, Steven McGregor
Starring | Hamilton Morris, Bryan Brown, Sam Neill, Thomas M. Wright, Matt Day, Ewan Leslie, Anni Finsterer, Gison John, Tremayne Doolan, Trevon Doolan, Natassia Gorey-Furber
Run Time | 113 minutes
Certificate | 15
Plot | After killing a cattle station master (Leslie) in self-defence, Aboriginal farmhand Sam (Morris) goes on the run with his wife Lizzie (Gorey-Furber). Giving chase is a posse that includes the obsessive Sergeant Fletcher (Brown) and a devout pacifist (Neill).
Review | Every year there are a handful of quality films that get released to little fanfare and minimal showings. Sweet Country makes a compelling argument to be included in this list.
Set in Australia in the 1920’s, Sweet Country is a western tale of a couple on the run in an unforgiving environment. Sam and Lizzie are forced to flee across the outback after the former kills a drunken landowner. An awful situation is made more difficult for Sam due to him being a black man, and the landowner being a white former army soldier, in a time when there were few free black men (Sam is one).
Whilst Sweet Country is indeed a chase/fugitive film, it should not be misconstrued as an up tempo thriller. This is a character heavy piece that meanders between the main groups of people, showing the audience that all the characters (to some extent) are three dimensional people and have more to them than what you see in the surface.
In a feature that focuses on character, it is imperative that the writing and performing are top notch, else it could quickly become a drag. Thankfully, Sweet Country plays host to some top notch acting, particularly from Hamilton Morris, Bryan Brown and the ever dependable Sam Neill. Morris is a sympathetic lead whose reactions seem realistic and human and Brown is entirely convincing as the obsessive lawman that is almost zealot-like in his application of the rule of law and wanting to bring the fugitive’s to justice.
Helping Sweet Country feel real and relatable is the interesting decision to make the film scoreless. Instead, the decision was taken to only use diegetic sounds in the final production. In this day of bigger, brasher and louder, this may have been seen a bold choice. However, it pays dividends here.
This decision, combined with a realistic script and some top quality performances, totally hooks the audience. It is this ability to allow the audience to immerse itself in the plight of Sam and Lizzie that helps Sweet Country overcome its potential drawback – the pace. This is a sedate film, and that will not appeal to some. However, it is never boring and the space between any dialogue is filled with sumptuous cinematography that truly hammers home just how beautiful, yet bleak, this part of the world was.
The Verdict | Possibly too steadily paced for some, Sweet Country is a bleak and beautiful film filled with strong performances on both sides of the camera.