Sometimes it’s never too early to reckon a film has the makings of a classic.
Sweet Country’s setting may be of a time and place yet it is a film that figures well beyond it’s own margins, with the fair promise of remaining not only relevant but engaging audiences for years to come. The early 20th Century, western-inspired outback thriller succeeds not only for (as a character makes abundantly clear in its final moments) it’s reflection of still hugely prevalent challenges, but simply as a character-driven drama that culminates in a manner rare for being so mooted as it is still abundantly shocking.
When Indigenous local Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris) goes on the run after acting in self defence against a white man (Ewen Leslie), local lawman (Bryan Brown) is brought in, enlisting the landowner for whom Kelly works (Sam Neill), amongst others, to track him down. Only one part of the whole story, the full ramifications of which are yet unknown even to Kelly, further details soon emerge to harrowing effect.
A thriller, courtroom and human drama all at once, it’s a dramatic understatement to say that the main performers are first class. One particular sequence with Morris rendered to profound emotive resonance is achieved, to his enormous credit, despite his barely moving a muscle. Neill, playing a pivotal role at this point and throughout, is as much the emotional heart of the film as any other figure, the latest in a series of roles more than ably showcasing his seasoned range.
Brown as the relentless cop pursuing Kelly throughout the desert carves out a space in the film all of his own, the effects of his dogged trek aptly mirroring a landscape that presents its own challenges distinct from other filmic and western frontiers. The veteran of Australian cinema literally tearing through a screening of The Story of the Kelly Gang remains among several moments, including the last emphatic shot, where the film’s symbolic edge manages to achieves its end without overwhelming or ultimately distracting from the frequently transfixing action.
The ending, powerful for being as disturbingly ambiguous as it is brutally impactful, like so many of Sweet Country’s moments will linger long after the credits have rolled on a film deserving of mindful contemplation and repeat viewings.
Sweet Country screened as part of the Adelaide Film Festival