Imagine the most typical Australian film ever and you’ll end up with something that resembles Sweet Country.
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The Australian film industry has always been obsessed with travelling back to colonial times to look at the atrocities and prejudice against Indigenous people. Following his 2009 award-winning film Samson and Delilah, Warwick Thornton continues to add to the likes of Rabbit-Proof Fence and Ten Canoes with his latest film Sweet Country.
Set in the Northern Territory in the 1920s, Sweet Country follows Sam (Hamilton Morris), a middle-aged Aboriginal farmer who kills a local white man in self-defence. Knowing his side of the story will be quickly dismissed by the law, Sam decides to go on the run with his wife, and the subsequent manhunt for Sam soon turns into a hunt for the true meaning of justice.
As Australians, we are proud to live in a country where freedom and peace are the standard way of life, but these values have been and continue to be denied to some. While not as powerful or relatable as Thornton’s modern retelling of the biblical Samson and Delilah, Sweet Country does serve as a reminder that we must never forget our roots, no matter how tough it may be to stomach.
In terms of storytelling, however, Sweet Country is a relatively stock standard affair. It’s a well-made piece of filmmaking, but it fails to truly captivate, mostly because we’ve seen better films handle the same subject matter in the past.
Sweet Country is still a worthy addition to Australian cinema, mostly thanks to its stunning cinematography. As he did with Samson and Delilah, Thornton once again takes on the duties of director and cinematographer, but this time around he has truly upped the ante. From vivid, orange sunsets to wide, sweeping shots of dense bushland and the red outback, the Australian landscape is on full display here.
Production designer Tony Cronin and costume designer Heather Wallace also deserve commendation for their faithful representation of the era, not only in what it looked like, but also in what it felt like. Those were tough times, and the sweat on people’s brows, and the dirt on their clothes works well to recreate the hardship experienced by people back then.
Sweet Country isn’t the most exciting film, but it is an important reminder for the pain and hard truths we will always face as Australians.
Sweet Country is available in Australian cinemas from January 25
Image courtesy of Transmission Films