The debut film from director Warwick Thornton, “Samson and Delilah”, was one of the most beautiful, moving, funny and tragic movies of the year…or any other year for that matter. It marked Thornton out as an artist…more than just a man who knew where to point the camera, he knew why he was pointing it there and what effect that would have. It also positioned him as a poetic story teller and as a man with a desire to make those stories have meaning.
Thornton has returned with a film that is every bit as good as that debut. No. He has returned with a film that betters that debut. That’s no mean feat.
“Sweet Country” is, on the surface, an Australian Western. It tells the story of a ranch hand who, in self-defence, shoots and kills a drunken, neighbouring rancher.
The problem is that the ranch hand, Sam, is a “black fella”…an Aboriginal man and the neighbouring rancher is a “white fella”. Sam has been working on the land of good Christian Sam Neil alongside his wife. Following the killing of the rancher Sam flees along with his wife pursued by local sheriff Fletcher.
Sam (Hamilton Morris) is a near mute who only speaks when he has to or has something he considers important enough to say. His knowledge of the local terrain place him at a considerable advantage over Fletcher (Bryan Brown) as the chase stretches out into ever more dangerous terrain.
What Thornton creates from a relatively simple premise is a film that has much to say about history, race, love, violence, the present and the future. Crucially he never lectures the audience and nothing is delivered with blunt force, instead we slowly become aware of our own discomfort about these underlying messages. Visually it has much in common with “Samson and Delilah”…the colours, the cinematography but there are nods to Kuroswawa and in particular to “Rashomon” which shows impeccable taste.
This is a film that deserves your time and your attention. Warwick Thornton is the best director you haven’t heard of…yet.