Five Great Australian Films
Great films can be found just about anywhere. As long as a country actually has the resources necessary to support some sort of film industry, then it's almost guaranteed that there will be some films that are worth your time.
That includes my own country—Australia. Even though there are many Australians who seem to have developed an unfortunate tendency of ignoring Australian films in favour of those from overseas (this includes myself, on occasion), there are still many examples of genuinely entertaining films made down here. While it wasn't really my intention when I started putting this list together, I do also have to admit that all of these films listed below do tend to focus on dark and gritty subject matter—so, it's probably fair to say that they might not be for everyone.
These Final Hours
These Final Hours is a film based on a very straight-forward premise. A massive asteroid has come down in the Atlantic Ocean, bringing about a extinction-level event. As a massive wave of destruction makes its way toward the western coast of Australia, the population of Perth are left trying to decide what they want to do with their final hours of life.
For James (Nathan Phillips), the answer to that question is actually quite simple. James is only concerned with making his way to a massive 'end of the world' party being thrown by some of his friends. There, increasingly desperate revelers plan on spending their final hours indulging in as much alcohol, drugs, and general debauchery as they can manage—all in the hope of making sure that they don't actually feel anything when the end finally comes. On his way to the party, though, James crosses paths with Rose (Angourie Rice), a young girl abducted by two men. Rescuing her, James finds himself forced into the role of her reluctant guardian. As they travel together, though, James finds himself feeling increasingly compelled to do something truly worthwhile with his final moments of life by helping Rose find her family.
These Final Hours is, as you might expect, a very bleak sort of film. It also isn't a particularly subtle one. It's occasionally violent, often depressing, and it ends pretty much exactly as you would expect it to. But it is also a film which manages to find some moments of genuine warmth, and even occasional humour, in its bleak subject matter.
Thematically-speaking, The Rover is a film which almost seems to pick up where These Final Hours left off (even though, to be fair, the exact nature of the apocalyptic event depicted in the previous film means that there isn't really going to be a 'post-apocalypse' for those characters to try to survive in). Taking place approximately 10 years after the largely undefined collapse of modern civilisation, The Rover introduces us to a grim and desolate Australian Outback which, to be fair, is pretty much just the Australian Outback (that place is already basically an inhospitable wasteland).
In this bleak, and increasingly hopeless world, a group of desperate thieves, fleeing from a violent shoot-out, make the ill-fated decision to steal a car belonging to Eric (Guy Pearce), a mysterious drifter with a dark past and a very short temper. Eric quickly sets out in pursuit, eventually crossing paths with Rey (Robert Pattinson), another member of that same gang who had been left behind during the fire-fight. With Rey as his reluctant guide, Eric sets out to track down the people who stole from him, recover his stolen property, and enact some violent revenge.
The Rover is another incredibly bleak sort of film—one which lacks even the occasional moment of warmth and humour that lightened the mood in These Final Hours. It is a film filled with desperate, and often incredibly unpleasant, people doing awful things to each other. If you can stomach that sort of thing, though, it still makes for a compelling experience—if only due to the fantastic performances from the film's two leads.
Up until his death in 2013, Mark "Chopper" Read had been a bizarre and fascinating figure in modern Australia. He was an unrepentant criminal, who managed to become famous thanks to a series of autobiographical books chronicling his exploits—written while he was in prison. He had also been obsessed with fame to such an extent that there was always been some debate about whether any of the stories he told about himself were actually true. Finally, he even managed to become the focus of a film, released in 2000, which drew on his books for inspiration.
At the heart of the film is, of course, the figure of Mark "Chopper" Read, himself—played by Eric Bana. Beginning and ending in prison, the film shows us key moments in the life of this eccentric, and occasionally contradictory, figure—revealing a person prone to violently lashing out at even his closest friends, but who also often manages to come across as funny and genuinely charismatic, in spite of his actions.
Naturally, Chopper is a violent film—but, it is also with a strong streak of black comedy running through it. It is also a film that plays with the contradictory nature of its protagonist—giving us both the charismatic anti-hero that Mark "Chopper" Read genuinely seemed to believe himself to be (both in the film and also in real life), and the violent thug that he probably really was. It's a fascinating film that depends heavily on the quality of its central performance. Fortunately, Eric Bana does a fantastic job.
For reasons that should be fairly obvious, the Western is a genre of fiction that has always been intimately tied to American history. Despite this, though, the lawless frontier of the American Old West is not the only time and place that can serve as the setting for that particular sort of tale. Australia's own history includes a similar period of occasionally violent lawlessness—where outlaws who came to be commonly referred to as "bush rangers" gained notoriety through their exploits.
Of these, the one who would be most instantly recognised by most Australians would have to be Ned Kelly—a man whose greatest claim to fame would have to be the time he attempted to take on the police while wearing an improvised suit of metal armour. It didn't actually work, of course—he was captured and later hanged—but it is still a popular image from Australian history.
Just about every Australian would be familiar with the name of Ned Kelly. Of course, the issue of whether he was just a violent criminal or actually a figure worthy of the folk-hero status he seems to have earned is something that has definitely been open to interpretation. The 2003 film, which starred Heath Ledger in the title role, definitely learns heavily toward the "folk-hero" side of the debate—portraying Ned and his gang as plucky rebels standing up to cruel authority.
While the historical accuracy of this portrayal might be questionable, I do have to admit that it does make for an entertaining story. Presenting Ned Kelly as, essentially, an honest man driven to a life of crime by circumstances largely beyond his control, the film does an impressive job of getting the audience on his side. Due largely to Heath Ledger's performance, Ned comes across as genuinely likable, and almost heroic, figure—in spite of his position on the wrong side of the law.
Finally, one more Australian take on the Western genre—though, one that goes for a very different tone to the previous film. If Ned Kelly could be thought of as an Australian take on the more traditionally heroic sort of Western, then The Proposition is a film which leans much more heavily toward the moral ambiguity found in the Spaghetti Westerns made famous by Sergio Leone.
The Proposition is also another film based on a fairly straight-forward premise. The Burns brothers are notorious outlaws—violent criminals who have been hunted by the law. When Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce) and his younger brother Mike (Richard Wilson) are finally captured, Charlie fully expects that they will face execution.
Instead, Charlie is presented with a proposition during his interrogation. If he agrees to hunt down, and kill, his older brother Arthur (Danny Huston), then he and Mike will be allowed to go free. However, should he refuse to go through with it, then Mike will be hanged and the hunt for the two older brothers will resume. So, left with only a short period of time in which to act, Charlie finds himself forced to choose between the only one of the three brothers who could be thought of as truly innocent, and the older brother he fears, but who has also always protected him.
The Proposition is not an easy film—and not just because of the moments of graphic violence. It is also a film content to take its time as it tells its story, with frequent pauses and lingering shots that some viewers might find evocative, while others will find them tedious. However, it is also often a genuinely tense and engaging film, featuring some very impressive performances from its cast.
© 2019 Dallas Matier