MOVIE REVIEW – Sweet Country
Review by Geoff Jenke
The movie, Sweet Country, is inspired by real events and directed by Warwick Thornton whose debut film was 2009’s Sampson and Delilah. It is a period “western” set in 1929 in the outback of the Northern Territory, Australia, filmed mostly outside of Alice Springs amongst the MacDonnell Ranges.
When Aboriginal stockman Sam (Hamilton Morris) kills white station owner Harry March (Ewen Leslie) in self-defense, Sam and his wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber, who is sensational in her first feature film) go on the run. They are pursued across the outback, through glorious but harsh desert country. Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) leads the posse with the help of Aboriginal tracker Archie (Gibson John) and local land owners Fred Smith (Sam Neill) and Mick Kennedy (Thomas M. Wright). Fletcher is desperate to capture Sam and put him on trial for murder – but Sam is an expert bushman and he has little difficulty outlasting them.
The film is set in 1929, where life in the outback is hard and tough. The land was often settled by returning soldiers from World War 1, suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. Women were second rate citizens and aborigines third rate. There is law to speak of but most of it is settled with violence.
In amongst this setting you have aboriginals working for and being treated harshly by white men and young aboriginal boys not knowing if to remain true to the aboriginal way or to move towards white man ways.
While the story line is a simple one, the story telling is powerful. The acting performances throughout the film are brilliant, with many of the characters played by people who were not actors. The part of the aboriginal boy, Philomac, was in fact played by twin brothers, Tremayne and Trevon Doolan, neither of whom had starred in a film before. There is no musical soundtrack. The only soundtrack needed is the soundscape of the outback. The outback itself is stark and sparse but strikingly beautiful.
There are questions left unanswered in the movie, but that is what Warwick Thornton chose. It is up to us, the viewer, to make decisions as to what happened to various characters. The movie is not necessarily here to provoke, but to show how life was in the outback in 1920’s. There have been comments that the women in the movie have little to say, but that was life then.
The movie is beautiful and brutal. It is the first must see movie of 2018.
Sweet Country is the best movie of 2018, so far. It may well be the best movie of the year.