Sweet Country Reviews
If local director Warwick Thornton grew up watching spaghetti westerns ‚" then he didn‚(TM)t have a chance, because all he‚(TM)s doing is transposing them into Australiana. The movie is also painfully stretched out it could be watched at 2 x speed and the viewer would miss nothing. Thornton‚(TM)s photographic direction is excellent (he should stay with this as his chosen profession) or was it actually co-photographer Dylan River who guided much of this? Equally good, was the sound recordist‚(TM)s professional work but, he also doubles as co-writer and leaves something to be desired ‚" maybe stay in the field your best at.
The unrelentingly nasty, foul-mouthed characters are simply too obviously set-up to be believed or taken seriously ‚" other than by viewers who do not balance their viewing habits and watch only this type of ‚~entertainment‚(TM) or are guilty partners of the ‚~them and us‚(TM) hate driven crowd ‚" those who continually drag this sorry world down to their pathetic levels. Brian Brown‚(TM)s Police Sergeant‚~s character is so superficial you could almost hear the production executives calling for a ‚~marketable‚(TM) name to be added to the cast ‚" same applies for Sam Neil, who plays the only ‚~Christian‚(TM) to inhabit this crude land (and Sam plays this out in his obvious atheistic manner) The Aboriginal casting is good and Matt Day does considerably well playing Judge Taylor. Maybe it‚(TM)s time for Australian moviemaking to grow up and move forward. Much time and money will be spent on marketing this movie overseas but might be better invested in a more positive endeavour.
Not sure why American Johnny Cash, singing Thomas Dorsey‚(TM)s ‚Peace in the Valley‚? was chosen for the end credits? If it was for satirical contrast - it simply didn‚(TM)t quite work. Perhaps then, it was intended for the American market...?
This is a typical slow-paced Australian outback black v white movie, but with an American western feel. The cinematography and settings are very good, but some of the performances are average, and a few scenes seem staged and contrived. Still, the film makes a good point from an historical perspective and the ending is quite touching.
Australia now has a sure fire western classic in its vaults
Set in 1929, aboriginal farmhand Sam (Hamilton Morris) works for kind preacher Fred (Sam Neill) in the country's Northern Territory. After Sam is sent to help out a drunk and ill-tempered neighbor Harry (Ewen Leslie), some unspeakable events unfold that lead up to a violent shootout. Sam kills Harry and takes off into the vast wilderness with his wife, hoping to escape his fate.
The remainder of the film is part adventure and part courtroom drama. A hunting party (including a Sergeant, the preacher, and a ragtag band of farmhands) is formed to track Sam down, but he continues to stay one step ahead of them. The film's deliberately slow pacing is given a forceful boost with director Warwick Thornton's unique storytelling method. It's one that plays with time and place, full of carefully inserted flashbacks and flash-forwards that reveal the eventual fate of these characters. It's memorable storytelling that instills an almost unbearable sense of dread, right down to the final scene.
The cinematography (by Thornton and Dylan River) is wildly impressive too, with sweeping images of the endless Australian landscape lending a somber visual reflection of the film's themes of cruelty and isolation. Bringing home this desolate feeling is the choice to forego a traditional score and instead relying on the sounds of nature to provide the film's sparse soundtrack. Sound plays an integral role in this film, and it's equal parts horrifying and effective. These choices border on brilliance, especially in a western.
Unfortunately, the film is plagued with an arduous slow pacing that hurts it overall. At least twenty minutes could've been cut without diminishing the punch of the story and its political message. Although at times it's uncomfortable to watch, "Sweet Country" works as a distinguished statement on integrity, authority, and bigotry and is a strong entry for the genre.
A SCREEN ZEALOTS REVIEW
The similarity between Sweet Country and Malick's movies don't stop there. As Warwick Thornton used symbolism in Sweet Country in a way that resembles Malick's use of symbolism. By that I mean the use of allegories and symbols in a beautiful way that feels literary or poetic. Unfortunately, the use of symbols in Sweet Country often feels superfluous, and completely unnecessary.
Sweet Country is masterly edited, and I think that what makes it very watchable, and often enjoyable despite its poetic style that may indispose some people.
Thornton used intercut flash-forwards and flashbacks heavily. And while sometimes they help us understanding some events that happened, or will happen, therefore build tension, they often seem like nothing but artistic frippery, specially when they are used to make the movie seem if it has a non-linear storytelling.
Sweet Country also should be praised for its non-sentimental approach to its message. Unlike other movies that tackle the same subject matter, Sweet Country doesn't dramatize any aspect of its story. The movie even doesn't have a soundtrack, and that makes it feel more realistic. The movie relies on its bleak and dreary atmosphere to imply its subject matter and moral instead of presenting them in the usual manner.
All the performances are good. Hamilton Morris' performance is impressive because it feels genuine. Sam Neill is also very good even if his character, Fred Smith, is underdeveloped. Fred Smith is a very important character and should have been more developed, but unfortunately, it's a very flat character.
In general, the movie has some issues in terms of its characters. The movie has too many characters for its own good. And the movie tries to give almost every character its fair share of importance.
In the end, Sweet Country a movie of visuals first and foremost, it could hardly be more visually impressive. But, to be honest, it's a very pretentious work.
Go buy a ticket to a good western!
Spend more money and make more films!