Monday, June 22, 2009

Review: Last Ride

Last Ride
Dir. Glendyn Ivin
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 90mins

A large number of working directors in Australia hail from backgrounds in short films. Not many have gotten quite the level of success that Glendyn Ivin though, who won the Palme d'Or at Cannes for Cracker Bag in 2003. An auspicious beginning to a career, no doubt, but having now seen his debut feature, the well-tread tale of Last Ride, I'm not sure he's utilised it to his advantage. While the story told in this film may appeal to the nodding heads of the Australian film industry who think to be worthy of accolades you must be raw and tough, I couldn't help but feel it was another case of a director telling a story we've all seen plenty of times before.

Another example of wallowing in lower class miserabilism without the tact, beauty and poignancy of this years Samson and Delilah or the horror and ferocity of Rowan Woods' The Boys. I understand it is meant to be some "harsh" and "powerful" portrayal of the "real" and "uncompromising" Australia that our filmmakers just love to force upon us, but I wanted to throw my hands up into the air and yell "I KNOW!" Australia is filled with a lot of terrible people who do terrible things. I don't need to see this again and especially when it's done like this. Much like the dreaded coming-of-age genre, this sub-section of Australian film has grown immensely tiresome and there's only so far that pretty (if still rather ho-hum) cinematography can get you.

Seemingly on the run from something, Hugo Weaving and newcomer Tom Russell play father and son Kev and Chook. What details Ivin does give us about their past come in quick bursts and they actually provide the film with its strongest moments. Essentially a road movie, Last Ride follows these guys as they navigate the harsh landscape of Australia and Greig Fraser's cinematography does an impressive job of expressing the ideas that Ivin has. Slowly revealing their former life in flashbacks, we soon discover the secrets behind the mysterious character of "Max" (John Brumpton) and why Kev is so desperate to not be found.

Tellingly, the film's best moments are indeed these tiny fragments that shoehorn themselves into the tale. The small flashbacks we get of Weaving and Russell before they ran away are the strongest aspect and hold one of the film's key moments, but it is barely expanded upon. A character played by the impressive Anita Hegh, a former flame of Kev, is another strong aspect, but is quickly disposed of by the film for more scenes of these two guys staring out of car windows at barren terrain. It doesn't help that Weaving is far from his best. He's done this performance before and could do it in his sleep. The standout, however, is ten-year-old Tom Russell who displays more conflicted emotions bubbling underneath his surface than a lot of adult actors could manage.

As the film progresses to it's natural conclusion I eventually stopped caring about the story Ivin was telling. More equating of masculinity to violence and more ponderous hypothesising about the bond between father and son. Weaving's Kev is a vile man and a cliched representation of a real Aussie bloke. Bashing his son for wearing make-up, teaching him to shoot and being abusive to perfectly innocent people. It's not so much tough viewing as just unpleasant. Perhaps that's a personal bug I must bear, but Ivin just does not do enough to warrant telling this story of a man so un-equipped for fatherhood yet again. Only in a sequence of quiet beauty at a location called Lake Gairdner - great location scouting there - does it all seem to actually come together and feel truly organic and less like a tired excursion into woe.

I can't imagine any regular filmgoer wanting to subject themselves to this. It doesn't have the power of other films of this kind and as the current box office success of Samson and Delilah proves, you really need to be spectacular to get audiences to see these gritty tales of life and hardships on the fringes. Last Ride just does not do enough to warrant sitting through it. D+


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review - I agree with what you're saying.

Sure enough Glendyn is hugely talented and LAST RIDE is very artistic but sometimes it just doesn't seem like filmmakers are asking the question: "Who will want to pay me $18 and give me two hours of their life for the privilege of watching my film?"

I mean REALLY! No matter how "brutifully" crafted this film is, where is the audience for this film that can be justified for it being made?

Glenn Dunks said...

It's not even that the film doesn't really have an audience - it's done mildly well at the arthouse box office, anyway - but I just think this film is indicative of a whole wave of films in which the filmmakers assume that because it's "about" a serious issue that you don't have to actually make a good film. Like, the issue is all that matters to some people.

I didn't find this movie did anything particularly interesting with it's premise at all.