DVD review: Lucky Country (2009)

27 May

Management guru and lord of the dance Robert Watson enters a time warp in Kriv Stenders follow up to Boxing Day.

A gripping psychological thriller set in the Australian bush during Federation—yeah, right! Those elements would not normally appear together in a single sentence let alone as a 92 minute movie.

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Lucky Country writer Andy Cox wanted to develop a story which would examine Australian values. Using a contemporary setting would have resulted in just another movie, and it was while he was out camping with friends that Cox chanced upon a settler’s cottage in northern NSW. Isolation. Close quarters. An unforgiving environment. Here were the perfect ingredients to provide the backdrop for testing the main characters.

Director Kriv Stenders and Producer Kristian Moliere became excitedly interested—a period film with a Western feel, and no immediate comparisons. The tight script, coupled with a claustrophobic setting, played right into the hands of their limited budget. When watching the DVD Extras, the constant theme is of the debilitating constraints of money, time and unplanned equipment failures, balanced by the exhilarating adrenalin rush of making this all come together successfully. Real life tension behind the scenes of the tense drama being filmed!

Nat (Aden Young, Beneath Hill 60, Mao’s Last Dancer) is single-handedly bringing up 12 year old Tom (Toby Wallace) and teenage Sarah (Hanna Mangan-Lawrence) on a remote bush farm in 1902. Nat’s obstinate belief is that God and “The Land” will provide for them—it just isn’t working too well, and he stumbles from one setback to another. Tom’s image of his can’t-do-any-wrong father gets shattered, so where can he look?

Three strangers enter their world—if this is Divine providence, it is in the form of ex-Boer War soldiers, each with their own hard life experiences. Let down by his father, young Tom looks to Henry (Pip Miller) and to Carver (Neil Piggot), as issues of trust and respect challenge his thinking.

As is common in Australian films, the first 30 minutes are slow. However in Lucky Country what is really happening is that the viewer is being lulled into a comfort zone which then gets progressively dismantled during the subsequent hour. The narrative unfolds to involve and affect each character, with plot threads woven into the larger piece. The viewer thirsting for true cinematic storytelling will be rewarded with an elevated heart rate carrying through to the finale.

There is a love interest—fleeting, but sufficient—however it is gold which Cox introduces as a tantalising icon to be moved around the drama.

Complementing the well-crafted script, the direction and cinematography consummate the whole work of art. Lucky Country delivers excellently. Much action takes place in two dark rooms—with deliberately unlit walls, so that the viewer is forced to concentrate on the facial landscapes. Outside action is framed by massive gum trees watching menacingly. Many scenes are 360º or 270º, and by using handheld cameras, the end result is the very real feeling that this is a real place—not a manufactured set.

Is there something missing from this fine Australian film? Yes—there are no kangaroos. Once it gets moving, this is a full-on psychological drama which thankfully doesn’t stop for clichéd wildlife.

Summary: 8/10 A suspenseful movie which will not disappoint.

Footnote: viewers interested in the art of moviemaking will enjoy the DVD Extras. The commentary provided by Stenders, with Moliere and Cox, feels quite fresh and candid, as they discuss significant deletions which would have stopped the moving of the plot. In particular, an entire opening sequence was removed (but is included in the Extras). These three professionals revelled in the whole experience of a six-week production window and a $2mill budget.

Robert Watson (first-time reviewer) is a Newcastle-based Business Coach who has published two books, edited two books and is now working on a screenplay as a major focus of his semi-retirement.

Robert@managingwell.com.au

Mobile 0419 007746

PO Box 120, Jesmond 2299

Production notes:

Filmed in South Australia during September 2008

Funded by Screen Australia, SA Film Corporation, Adelaide Film Festival and Footprint Films

Director: Kriv Stenders (His 5th movie as director, but has also been writer, actor and cinematographer. 3 Awards and 4 Nominations)

Producer: Kristian Moliere

Writer: Andy Cox

Cast:

Nat – Aden Young (Beneath Hill 60, Mao’s Last Dancer, Cosi, Paradise Road)

Tom – Toby Wallace – first time actor

Henry- Pip Miller (All Saints, The Bill, Sliding Doors)

Sarah – Hanna Mangan-Lawrence (Sexy Thing, Acolytes, The Square)

Carver – Neil Pigot (Neighbours, Blue Heelers, The Dish)

Jimmy – Eamon Farren (All Saints, The Pacific)

Main Feature: 92 minutes

DVD Extras: 102 minutes

  • Deleted Scenes (especially major opening scene which was ultimately deleted)
  • Behind the Scenes Featurette
  • Production Video Diary
  • Cast and Crew Interviews
  • Trailer
  • Audio Commentary by Director, Producer and Writer

Links: Official site

Available locally through Madman

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