Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Glendyn Ivin
Stars: Hugo Weaving, Tom Russell, John Brumpton.
So far 2009 is shaping up to be an excellent year for Australian films, with Mary And Max, Samson And Delilah and My Year Without Sex proving to be both critical and popular successes. While the bleak, character-driven drama Last Ride is not quite in the same league as those films, it is still an impressive and very cinematic film, but against such impressive competition it may struggle to find an audience.
Last Ride is the feature debut from Glendyn Ivin, whose short film Crackerbag won the top prize at Cannes in 2003. While it shares a couple of thematic elements, Last Ride also explores notions of fatherhood, responsibility, masculinity and identity. Hugo Weaving plays Kev, a recently released convict who takes his 10 year old son on a road trip. The pair head deeper into the outback, anonymous and alone. The film is slow and its opening scenes are somewhat clumsily handled. The film only really kicks into gear when the pair hit the desolate outback, and Ivin expertly ratchets up the tension.
This modest little film is made more compelling by the very real rapport and chemistry that develops between the two leads. The always-reliable Weaving delivers an impressive and performance as Kev, a volatile, unnerving character, who alternates between moments of tenderness with his young son and moments of sudden and extreme violence. He is both protective and cruel, an initially repulsive character who slowly elicits a reluctant sympathy from the audience. Newcomer Tom Russell is also very good as his young son Chook, and brings a mix of touching vulnerability and unexpected strength to his performance.
Like Samson And Delilah, Last Ride is full of long almost dialogue-free passages that still move the narrative forward. Adapted from Denise Young’s novel, Max Gudgeon’s screenplay develops an elusive style that allows us to learn more about Kev, his background and his motivation as the story unfolds. The real strength of the film though lies in its visuals. Last Ride has been beautifully shot in widescreen by Greig Fraser, whose evocative images capture the harsh landscapes of the remote setting, and make the locations almost a third character in the unfolding drama. Ivin’s vision of the outback contrasts markedly with the unflattering, almost horrific vision that is presented in the Australian classic Wake In Fright, which has also gained a timely re-release.