Please give a big welcome back to What Movie This Week’s Aussie pals Salty Popcorn, bringing you the best of Australian cinema. Salty Popcorn’s editor, Jason King, takes a look at Strangerland, his hot tip for best Aussie movie of 2015. Fingers crossed it’ll wing its way over to Blighty before too long…
New to the remote Australian desert town of Nathgari, the Parker family is thrown into crisis when Catherine (Nicole Kidman) and Matthew (Joseph Fiennes) discover that their two teenage kids, Tommy (Nicholas Hamilton) and Lily (Maddison Brown), have mysteriously disappeared just before a massive dust storm hits the town. With Nathgari now eerily smothered in red dust and darkness, the locals join the search led by local cop David Rae (Hugo Weaving). With temperatures rising, and the chances of survival plummeting with each passing day, Catherine and Matthew find themselves pushed to the brink as they struggle to survive the uncertainty of their children’s fate.
The film is spectacular, hands down I do believe this will be my favourite Australian movie of 2015 and comes across as this year’s THE ROVER. It is easily one of Kidman’s best performances from an incredible career and she eats the screen in this one. Also her and Weaving act together is a perfect fit, two actors who not only know each other so well but are so comfortable acting together it is almost natural.
Dealing with grief is a terrible thing to go through, dealing with that grief with the knowledge that your children may or may not be dead and you don’t know where they are, and you can’t do anything is enough to drive anyone insane. In a small town in the middle of the desert when you know there is a survival clock is beyond horrendous. I don’t want to imagine.
For the Parkers, it is incredibly difficult, they moved to Nathgari for the sole purpose of getting away from attention. Attention brought about by their daughter, a truly promiscuous teenager who is bored in this small town and longs for attention. Lily is her mother’s daughter. Catherine needs attention, she is lonely, her husband has withdrawn away from her and they were never right for each other. In Nathgari she is bored, and depressed, and she lacks little in the way of feelings. Lily is basically the same but going through her late teen years. Tommy is younger, the most grounded and least affected by their family situation and someone adapting better but slower, but he also has his own issue and night-wanders through the town.
The film presents as a murder/ disappearance mystery/ psychological thriller, in a small town there can only be a few suspects and the entire town is affected by this tragedy.
As I said earlier Kidman’s performance is just sublime, she appears more comfortable away from the Hollywood studios. Weaving is always amazing and his small town cop, thoroughly enjoyable. I did not like Fiennes or his character and am uncertain if this is due to his bad casting or because it was so good I just loathed the character, the chemistry between him and Kidman was hideous, but at this stage of their marriage it should be. Brown was fine as slutty Lily and Hamilton was superb as Tommy, I loved his character and his lack of connection later in the movie was strong, the compassion and empathy I had for this kid was more powerful than my thoughts for the rest of the family.
The film captures small town Australian desert/ country-life perfectly, the dust storm was a bonus and the isolation was uncomfortable. Farrant’s direction was a triumph and P.J. Dillon’s cinematography is a marvel that is matched by the fine wine of Keefus Ciancia’s music that smothers the movie in long drawn out tension oozing in melancholy and desperation.
My gripes are two; firstly, already mentioned is my indecision of Fiennes, but this is not his movie, it is Kidman’s, and she owns it. But lastly, the ending was not what I was expecting, it was mostly unnecessary and I felt the film was let down by this, it lacked the gravitas I believed it desired.
Regardless of the flaws the film has way more merits, it plays like a long strummed piano wire and the tension is wonderful.
Salty Popcorn score: 4/5