On this month’s episode of CinemAddicts, I praised two under the radar movies which definitely warrants your attention. Sweet Country hits select theaters today, and though there’s a slew of choices this weekend, it might be the best of the lot.
Set in 1929 Alice Springs, a remote section in Australia’s Outback, Sweet Country is a narrative that isn’t anchored by a meditative or propulsive score. Director Warwick Thornton wants our eyes and ears affixed to the world before us – an environment rife with racism that boils over the unforgiving heat. A sense of compassion or abiding religion is rare in this land, and even though it’s subtly doled out by a preacher Fred Smith (Sam Neill), this level of grace is few and far between.
But this isn’t Fred’s story. Our protagonist Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris), an Aboriginal who, along with his wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber), work for Fred, are on the run after Sam kills Harry March (Ewen Leslie) in self-defense. An abusive, alcoholic war vet, March is bad to the bone, and though his killing may have been justified, Sam understands the law (and the local townsfolk) may not be on his side.
The couple set off to even more remote sections of the Outback, with a world weary Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) determined to catch Sam no matter what the cost. Joining Fletcher in the posse is Fred (to ensure Sam comes back alive), another soldier and a hotheaded land owner (Thomas W. Wright).
The defining beauty of Sweet Country doesn’t lie in the stark, yet often eye catching compositions framed by Thornton and cinematographer Dylan River (Thornton is also credited as a co-DP). Instead of beating us over the head with the movie’s exploration of colonialism and inherent prejudice, Thornton delivers a seductively propulsive narrative sans a wasted moment. Instead of preaching to the choir, he lets the story speak for itself and gives us enough space to ruminate on the bigger picture (Sweet Country would make a great double feature with The Searchers).
Sweet Country’s pacing may seem languid and measured upon initial view, but its ultimate effect is simply hypnotic. Though powered by solid work from Brown and Neill, it’s Morris who effectively steals the show as Sam, a stoic and ultimately heroic soul who understands that railing against the world is just wasted energy.
Editor Nick Meyers also instills blink and you’ll miss it flash forwards which hints at the fates of several of the story’s players. Along with the lack of music and Meyers’ bag of tricks, Sweet Country’s story is enhanced by these cinematic flourishes. Many filmmakers often let their self-indulgences detract from delivering a knockout story (as a huge Brian De Palma fan, I have first hand experience!), but Warwick Thornton is in full command of this deceptively rigorous tale.
I actually gave Sweet Country 4.5 stars during the CinemAddicts podcast, but weeks later this movie is still swimming around my feeble mind. It’s one of those rare flicks that’s simply hard to shake, and this is easily one of my favorite films of ‘18. So, five stars (*****) it is!!
Take a listen below to the latest episode of CinemAddicts (My Sweet Country reviews begins at 44:00)
Sweet Country opens in New York (IFC Center) and Los Angeles (Landmark Theater) today and expands to over 20 locations April 13. For more info, check out Samuel Goldwyn Films.