‘Australia Day’ immediately becomes the frontrunner for best Australian film of the year.
Starring Bryan Brown and a handful of newcomers, it tells an ensemble piece of various characters racing to get to safety over the course of one day. A frenetic pace builds growing dread while pulling back several layers of characters who are about to converge in interesting ways. Low-key in its action but always exciting, dark but resolutely hopeful, thoughtful without being preachy, meticulously plotted yet always character driven – this is first rate filmmaking that is to be applauded.
The film opens at dawn on Australia Day with three people on the run for different reasons. The race of these characters is specifically chosen and plays on audience knowledge of our own cultural history and issues being discussed now. When one old white man turns to another and says “we’re becoming a rare breed”, the line can read on a few different levels. That’s true of words spoken later on in the film by Brown too.
The unfolding of the plot is one of the joys of the film that can’t be spoiled here, but suffice to say the story escalates to a satisfying conclusion. There are rich themes throughout about absent parents, overcoming prejudice and how best to seek justice in this world. The anchor of the film is the performance of Bryan Brown who is neither a straight forward hero nor a man who can sit idly by as terrible things are done in the world. In a film dealing with the cost of parents who aren’t there, he effectively becomes a guardian to this young girl Lan Chang who, while barely understanding a word of his English, sizes up that this is a good man.
The rest of the cast from very minor roles to the three relatively young leads are spot on throughout escalating the drama and conveying complex motivations that lead to such violence. Telling first and foremost a story about the plights of these characters there is some provocative imagery throughout about the larger issues we all face. At one point April Tucker (played by Aboriginal actor Miah Madden) is on a bus and looks over at a young white girl smiling at her in innocent friendship and her face is painted in the national flag.
The producers from Hoodlum wanted to make a splash with their first feature film and chose this brilliant script from Stephen M. Irwin before hiring Director Kriv Stenders of ‘Red Dog’ fame. Made by these local Brisbane boys the story could take place in any Australian metropolitan city but for locals there will be some delight taken in seeing so many familiar places up on the big screen. A quick shoot over 21 days, Stenders and his team have made a film that looks gorgeous with no aspect of production that looks or feels rushed.
This is an ‘Australia Day’ that we can all enjoy and take pride in.
‘AUSTRALIA DAY’ IS IN CINEMAS NATIONALLY FROM 21 SEPTEMBER.