Movie Review – Sweet Country

Imagine the most typical Australian film ever and you’ll end up with something that resembles Sweet Country.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic 

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

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Who Should’ve Won At The AACTAs

Josip Knezevic 

The AACTAs, Australia’s version of the Oscars, celebrate the finest achievements in Australian cinema. 2017 brought us a strong pool of nominees that represent a bright future for Australian film, and while these films won’t put Australia on the international film map as say Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand, they’re still remarkable achievements for Australian filmmaking.

Yes, you may be thinking the AACTAs took place in December last year, but seeing as it’s Australia Day long weekend, it seems apt to look back at who won versus who should have won and honour the greatest Australian films of 2017.

Best Film
Winner: Lion
Who Should Have Won: Ali’s Wedding

From the outset, it was obvious that Lion was going to take this top spot, as it did in so many categories. It boasts a much larger production budget than its fellow nominees and also features some of the world’s biggest stars in Nicole Kidman, Dev Patel and Rooney Mara. I can’t complain that it won, it’s a beautiful and gut-wrenching story, but at the same time, Ali’s Wedding represents a fresh breath of air for Australian storytelling and the depiction of our culture on screen. Yes, it may just be a simple love story on the surface, but it has so many little charms and quirks that make it genuinely funny and interesting to watch. It would have been a very deserving winner.

Best Direction
Winner: Lion (Garth Davis)
Who Should Have Won: Hounds of Love (Ben Young)

Although I enjoyed the emotional journey Garth Davis took us upon in Lion, I can’t help but feel that Ben Young’s skills should have been recognised here, and not just because his film Hounds of Love was filmed in WA. Most of his film takes place within the walls of a small home and focuses on the relationship between two emotionally twisted and disturbed serial killers. Young shows great restraint throughout the film, tending to let your imagination take over, rather than simply showing a lot of graphic violence. He creates a lot of tension and directs some skillful, emotional performances from his leads all on a very small budget. I’m looking forward to seeing him take on bigger projects in the future.

Best Lead Actor
Winner: Sunny Pawar (Lion)
Who Should Have Won: Sunny Pawar (Lion)

Cuteness will always reign supreme. 9-year-old Sunny Pawar took out the Best Lead actor category and I agree wholeheartedly with this choice. Let’s hope this child protégé continues his acting success as an adult.

Best Lead Actress
Winner: Emma Booth (Hounds of Love)
Who Should Have Won: Emma Booth (Hounds of Love)

Without Emma Booth’s powerhouse performance, Hounds of Love would not have been anywhere near as enjoyable. Booth brought an emotional delicacy to her serial killer role that encouraged sympathy towards her, despite her horrendous pursuits. Ever since her days on TV’s Underbelly she’s proven herself to be a fantastic actress, and I’m glad she’s getting recognition for her work on the big screen.

Best Supporting Actor
Winner: Dev Patel (Lion)
Who Should Have Won: Dev Patel (Lion)

Much like Emma Booth’s strong example in Hounds of Love, Dev Patel has such a powerful and resonating performance in Lion that without him, I doubt the film could have reached the same strong ending. Together, him and Sunny Pawar made a fine team on their emotional journey to find their way home. Patel has gone from strength to strength ever since his lead performance in Slumdog Millionaire

Best Supporting Actress
Winner: Nicole Kidman (Lion)
Who Should Have Won: Nicole Kidman (Lion)

The Lion train continues, and the fine performances on offer in this film should make everyone jump on board. Lion is a prime example of what happens when you put together a cast of A-list Hollywood actors and everything clicks. Nicole Kidman plays the mother who adopts a young Indian refugee, and her wisdom as an experienced actor brings an emotional connection to the film that would not have been anywhere near as strong without her.

 

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment 

Movie Review – Three Summers

Three Summers is determined to bring a sunny disposition to the thorniest of political topics.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Michael Philp

Let’s get this out of the way quick-smart: for some people, Three Summers will not be an easy film. It should be – it’s a comedy, after all – but it’s also an unreservedly left-wing perspective on Australia that will rub certain people up the wrong way. It wears its politics on its sleeve in almost every scene, and you’ll either laugh along with it or get frustrated when it (regularly) dismisses conservative opinions. In other words, it’s a Ben Elton film.

Written and directed by Elton, Three Summers is a film about Australia and its stories. Accordingly, it follows a variety of groups at the fictional Westival music festival. There’s the feisty Warrikins (Rebecca Breeds, John Waters); Roland the Theremin player (Robert Sheehan); the Morris dancers led by Michael Caton; Queenie the relentlessly sunny radio announcer (Magda Szubanski); and about half a dozen other plotlines, all converging on the same campgrounds over three years.

It’s impressive just how well Elton manages to juggle it all. Considering the number of ideas he’s throwing around, it would’ve been easy for the film to descend into a preachy soup. Instead, thanks to the extended timespan, there’s always a fresh joke around the corner. Revisiting these characters over multiple years affords us the chance to watch them grow and adjust naturally. A punk band dwindles, an AA meeting grows, and certain events challenge the community dynamic in surprising ways. Through it all, a warmly empathetic optimism brings the disparate groups together.

That optimism is what ultimately ties the film together. Elton himself has made it clear that he wanted to make a nice film – something lovely and warm – and that ethos shines through. Even when the film is confronting Australia’s thorniest conversations – the refugee crisis, Aboriginal marginalisation – it remains upbeat and acknowledges them as decipherable problems. They aren’t just rocks and hard places, they are people, and people deserve love and respect.

With so many stories it’s also inevitable that some of them won’t get the time they deserve. Aboriginal marginalisation, for instance, is a complex topic that is ill-suited to a comedy that can’t focus on it. One of the children wears an ankle-monitor which is played for a single laugh but never properly addressed. That’s practically the definition of lip-service, and it’s not the only instance of it. Elton is sincere in his desire to confront difficult issues, and his attempts are at least commendable, but the problems are also much bigger than he can manage in an already busy film.

Conservatives will bristle, but lefties will laugh at the shenanigans in Three Summers. It’s not a perfect film – Elton would do well to narrow his scope next time – but it’s genuine where it counts. It’s a kind-hearted comedy with some wonderful performances (Szubanski is just lovely) and a gorgeously Australian setting. It’s the perfect film for an outdoor screening on a warm summer’s eve so expect it to remain a mainstay of those events for years to come.

 

Three Summers is available in Australian cinemas from November 2.

Image courtesy of Transmission Films 2017

 

Movie Review – Ali’s Wedding

Continuing a grand tradition of romantic comedies, Ali’s Wedding is heart-warming fun.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Michael Philp

There’s something distinctly comforting about Ali’s Wedding. Maybe it’s the adorable way its leads hold pinky fingers and share tentative kisses. Perhaps it’s the fact that it presents its themes of oppression and family with tenderness and understanding. Or it could just be that it recalls some of my favourite comedies like Bend it Like Beckham and Muriel’s Wedding. Regardless, I found it impossible not to fall in love.

Ali’s Wedding follows the titular Ali (Osamah Sami), the son of a local Muslim cleric, as he first fails his medical entrance exam and then proceeds to cover that up with hilariously disastrous consequences. As that lie spirals out of control, Ali also manages to fall in love with Dianne (Helana Sawires), get engaged to Yomna (Maha Wilson), and play the lead in his mosque’s annual musical. To its credit, the film manages to juggle all of those scenarios excellently, presenting them with a warmth and charm that invites the audience into its world.

And it’s quite remarkable how well the film does that. From its first frames, Ali’s Wedding is firing on all cylinders to endear itself to you. Even potentially horrific moments are depicted with such finesse that they feel necessary and appropriate. Like its characters, Ali’s Wedding takes those events and allows them to inform a kind and loving worldview. There is pain at the centre of this story, but the film always remembers to let a ray of light shine through as well.

That’s important too, considering the subtext of the film. All but one of its characters is a devout Muslim, and the film doesn’t shy away from the realities of that. Dianne’s father serves this purpose particularly well as she both respects and bristles at his hard-line views. Presenting a balanced portrayal of those beliefs is difficult, but the film’s empathetic approach goes a long way towards selling the conflict to outsiders. Like Bend it Like Beckham, Ali’s Wedding sees the humanity behind its authority figures. Dianne’s father isn’t an evil man, he’s just following his faith and trying to protect his only daughter.

The lead performances are a huge part of that humanity as well, contributing a lot to the heart of the film. Sami is sincere, bright-eyed, and adorably charming as Ali, while Sawires is just as wonderful in her portrayal of Dianne’s carefully constructed defensiveness. Together, their chemistry anchors the film amidst the colours and noise of the Muslim community.

There’s a scene towards the end of the film where Ali’s father tells him that he is and always will be loved, regardless of his mistakes and the pain he has caused. To me, that’s key to the appeal of the film. An array of bright colours and awkward humour can’t substitute for real heart, but Ali’s Wedding has all three in spades. Its warmth and tenderness are beautifully realised and help to entice the viewer into a world they may initially be wary of. It is part of a much larger history of Australian and British comedies – there are comparisons to be made with even The Castle – and it slots in perfectly next to some of the greats. With luck, we will continue to see its core talents for years to come.

Ali’s Wedding is available in Australian cinemas from August 31

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment 

Movie Review – Killing Ground

Damien Power’s maiden voyage is often smooth and gripping, but lacks the on-board facilities to truly dazzle.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

About midway through Killing Ground, the debut feature from Damien Power, we realise we’ve been taken for a ride. Here is a dark, bloody, disturbing picture, told out of order, about two scumbag weirdos who skulk around the woods of the Australian outback terrorising innocent campers. Why? Because they can, I suppose. If Mr. Power believes humans harbour within an inherent taste for senseless evil, his two villains here should be studied as specimens. I’m inclined to think otherwise, which makes Killing Ground a bit baseless.

I love a good thriller, and this is a confident and well-made one. But I need to make sense of the violence that happens within. Killing Ground can trace its ancestry directly to Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), one of the cruellest and most eerie of films, but what it’s missing is the insanity of Chainsaw’s mayhem. That was a movie about a cannibalistic family in the middle of nowhere, driven mad by each other and the stench of death. The baddies in Killing Ground are neither cannibals nor insane. They are simply despicable, which might be the point, but Power doesn’t put a big enough stamp on it.

The plot traces three stories: one of Ian (Ian Meadows) and Sam (Harriet Dyer), a chemistry-free lovey-dovey couple set to see in the new year in a tent; the family of Margaret (Maya Stange), Rob (Julian Garner), Em (Tiarnie Coupland) and little Ollie; and the two psychos, German (Aaron Pedersen) and Chook (Aaron Glenane). The structure of the narrative sets the scene, and as it unfolds, pieces come together and some questions (not enough) are answered.

The film cedes its promising beginnings when it eventually becomes linear and turns into a run-of-the-mill slasher thriller in which the crazy bad guys pillage, rape, plunder and otherwise make camping very inconvenient for the enamoured couple. There is a shootout, a stand-off, a hostage crisis, some chases (both on foot and on wheels) and a very strange open-ended resolution that hints at a future more uncertain than the present.

And yet Killing Ground is a film with potential. It engendered uneasy feelings in me, but it lacks that ultimate spark of genius to make me think twice about my next camping trip. Both Pedersen and Glenane are convincing as menacing cavemen, and they share a few scenes in which they openly fret over the dangers of getting caught. But if they were truly mad, if they really believed in what they were doing, they would have flaunted their trophies for the world to see instead of making theirs a clandestine hobby. It would have upped the stakes because they’d have nothing to lose. And I would have been completely sold.

Killing Ground is available in Australian cinemas from August 24 

Image courtesy of Mushroom Pictures 

 

Movie Review – Jasper Jones

Jasper Jones is certainly one of the stronger Australian films that we’ve seen in recent years, but it falls just short of achieving the status of beloved classic.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½  
Cherie Wheeler

Appearances: we’re all very quick to judge one another by what we see on the outside, and how this fits in with society’s expectations, but what really goes on behind closed doors can be a very different story.

It’s these sorts of prejudices and secrets that fuel the story of new Australian film Jasper Jones – based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Craig Silvey. Set in the 1960’s in a fictional, rural Western Australian town, Jasper Jones follows 14-year-old Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller), who inadvertently becomes tangled up in the town mystery surrounding the disappearance of Laura Wishart. The finger is immediately pointed at mixed race outcast Jasper Jones (Aaron L. McGrath), who enlists Charlie’s help to prove what really happened to the beautiful girl next door, but the deeper Charlie digs, the darker the truths he uncovers. This all becomes further complicated by Laura’s younger sister and object of Charlie’s affections Eliza (Angourie Rice), Charlie’s overprotective mother (Toni Collette) and dangerous town hermit Mad Jack Lionel (Hugo Weaving).

In trying to cover so many storylines – often shifting in tone from light and humorous, to foreboding and thrilling – Jasper Jones does become an uneven viewing experience at times. It explores almost every possible theme associated with a small Australian town in the 1960’s, from the Vietnam War to the corruption of those with power, and this often detracts from the core conflict. For me, the enigma of Jasper Jones is the most intriguing and engaging part of the story, so I found deviations to frivolous scenes such as a community cricket game to be enjoyable, yet slightly annoying distractions. Additionally, drawn out moments of Charlie considering all the clues bring the pacing of the film to a grinding halt.

Similar to Fences, I think more could have been done to fully transform this narrative for the screen. As an example (mild spoiler alert), when Jasper first approaches Charlie for help, we’re provided long takes of the pair skulking throughout the town, with a voice over from Levi Miller expressing Charlie’s uncertainty and rationale behind following Jasper – someone he barely even knows. There’s a lot of telling and not a lot of showing going on, and I feel these scenes would have had far more impact and would have been far more credible if the audience had already been introduced to Jasper and how he is perceived by both Charlie and the rest of the town.

Having said all that, this doesn’t mean that director Rachel Perkins (Bran Nue Dae) has done poorly. On the contrary, there are some outstanding dramatic scenes sprinkled throughout the film that allow the all-star cast to shine. Hugo Weaving and Aaron L. McGrath steal the show in an intensely moving confrontation, while Susan Prior, who plays the mother of Laura and Eliza Wishart, packs a real emotional gut-punch during a crucial moment. Toni Collette is on fire from start to finish with her usual authenticity and sincerity, and Levi Miller (Peter Pan, Red Dog) and Angourie Rice (These Final Hours, The Nice Guys) are often left to carry the weight of the film and do so satisfactorily.

Backing up the high calibre performances is stunning production design that brings the era to life most convincingly, and the gorgeous cinematography really shows it off. Overall, Jasper Jones is a welcome addition to the repertoire of Australian film, but it’s not quite the absolute knock-out I was hoping for.

Jasper Jones is available in Australian cinemas from March 2nd 

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment

Movie Review – Boys in the Trees

Are you sick of Australian movies just being about normal blokes in suburbia?  What if we add ghosts ‘n stuff!?

⭐ ½
Cody Fullbrook

Corey (Toby Wallace) and his douchebag friends spend their high school graduation smoking, drinking and bullying school outcast, Jonah (Gulliver McGrath).  Later that night Corey finds Jonah, and out of guilt he walks him home, initiating a surreal trip of memories and regrets.

The two boy’s time together is plagued with absurdity.  Spooky houses, creeping shadows and a man in a white suit have no clear relevance to anything.  The actor’s stilted line delivery is somewhat forgivable since they’re working with pretentious lines like “there’s worse things than falling”, but the odd imagery and Jonah talking like he hopped out of Lewis Carroll’s head creates a foggy story that is constantly uninviting.

The strangeness of the journey is only matched by the boy’s chemistry which arbitrarily fluctuates as Jonah acts snarky then pitiable before switching back. It’s only when Corey interacts with his friend, Jango (Justin Holborow), that Boys In The Trees shows some sparks.  They share a sincere, movie-saving final scene and all their interactions are bursting with energy. Justin play Jango with such confident menace that it’s believable he may end up having a life as grim as the Star Wars character of the same name.

Everyone else, however, doesn’t get enough screen time to show much personality, including Corey’s wannabe girlfriend, Romany (Mitzi Ruhlmann), and his downtrodden father (Terence Crawford).

There was a complete failure to amalgamate three separate stories of Halloween scares, childhood reminiscence and a teenager standing up for himself, and with too much attention focused on pseudo-symbolic moments, the film is never scary, nostalgic or empowering.  With a narrative as messy as it is vague and a plot twist too heavily hinted at to be surprising, Boys In The Trees isn’t worth anyone’s time.

Boys in the Trees is available in Australian cinemas from October 20

Image courtesy of Mushroom Pictures

Movie Review – Deepwater Horizon

Deepwater Horizon is a visceral depiction of a disastrous nightmare that will leave you wanting a shower, some ice cream and a few band-aids.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Cody Fullbrook

Mark Wahlberg stars as Mike Williams, a crew member on the oil rig, Deepwater Horizon, based in the Gulf of Mexico.  An ill-fated test causes the entire platform to tear itself apart, leaving the battered crew to try and find a way out of the greasy inferno.

Williams is but one of several staff that share a somewhat equal amount of screen time, including the stern boss, Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) and greedy corporate suit, Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich).  There are no heroes in this story.  Only victims.  All actors are comfortable in their roles and we spend enough time with these characters to get a sense of natural comradery amongst the crew.  These genuine human moments are the high points of Deepwater Horizon, especially between Williams’ and his distraught wife (Kate Hudson) during and after the catastrophe.  However, much is lost in the crew’s technical jargon leavened throughout the film’s first half.

There’s a lot of build up to one long, hellish climax, but unless this movie is shown as a horrifying safety video at an oil rig convention, the viewer isn’t going to pick up on a lot of the mechanical details.  The character’s arrival to Deepwater Horizon is followed by lengthy chatter about the machine’s inner workings, and with a poorly explained Negative Pressure Test, violently shaking pipes do nothing to explain what’s actually happening.  This is made worse by the fact that we’re barely shown the overall layout of the platform, so rooms feel unnecessarily compartmentalized, resulting in confusing scenes.

Nonetheless, Deepwater Horizon’s apex is, of course, the titular rig’s disaster and its explosive results are easily worth the price of admission.  What starts as a brutal burst of oil, builds into blistering fires and explosions.  You feel every eruption as crew are thrown head first into solid walls and steel equipment, only out-done by two scenes involving a glass shard and a dislodged bone, both providing empathetic groans from the audience. The movie then quickly ends after the event.  It makes me wonder why this wasn’t just made into a documentary instead of a Hollywood re-enactment of a true tragedy.

Deepwater Horizon isn’t anything special, but is still a gruesome reminder of how lucky we all are.  You’ll get a few chuckles from the crew’s banter but as soon as the test begins, there’ll be nothing but tears and groans – in a good way.  If you’re willing to get through a rather average build up, the ensuing chaos is well worth the wait.

Deepwater Horizon is available in Australian cinemas from Thursday October 6th 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven delivers good feelings and professional entertainment value, but does little to distinguish itself from its formidable forebears.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

The worst scene in The Magnificent Seven comes right at the end; undoing what the rest of the movie worked so hard to achieve. The point of this story – first envisioned in Kurosawa’s sprawling masterpiece, Seven Samurai (1954), later reimagined in countless other tributes and remakes (including Pixar’s A Bug’s Life) – is selflessness in the line of honour. The samurai were honourable warriors, bound by bushido. Cowboys were bound by their egos. What they shared in common was the rejection of self-gain. The 1960 Magnificent Seven understood this. This new Hollywood remake, directed by Antoine Fuqua, tacks on a closing scene that converts its guns-for-hire into immortalised heroes, effectively gut-punching itself.

And what a pity that is, because the rest of it feels like a solid Western. It’s not limp or dated. Its production values are convincing. It comes meaty, ready for a fight. In an age where filmmakers favour CGI shortcuts, Fuqua has made the right decision to root his film in solid ground. The town of Rose Creek is actually there, built with wood and nails. Explosions are rigged and timed. Stuntmen tumble off rooftops and plough through windows. Physical action gives the movie weight and visual depth, a leisure that’s no longer easy to come by.

Denzel Washington plays Sam Chisolm, the Yul Brynner character from the original remake, and doesn’t so much chew up the scenery as stand back and admire it. Washington is always reliable, but here he seems too passive to be the leader of a troupe of gun-slinging, macho monkeys. I can’t remember a single impressive thing he does in the entire film.

Elsewhere, the cast tries to be as diverse as politically and financially possible. It introduces a Korean knife-thrower (Lee Byung-Hun); a Mexican outlaw (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) in full cabrón mode; and throws in a Comanche archer (Martin Sensmeier) for good measure. The problem is, by the time the big old gunfight thunders its way around the corner, none of these “interesting” characters do anything worth noting. And the gunfight, as impressive as it is, resembles a chaos party hosted by anarchy. It’s hard to tell what’s happening, and to whom. There are so many bad guys for our heroes to gun down that you might begin to suspect they’re growing out of the soil like potatoes.

But for what it’s worth, this Magnificent Seven is a good, harmless time. The interplay between the characters is often electric and the way the screenplay whittles down the ensemble cast shows restraint and diplomacy. It is, however, still a movie that need not have been made. But it has, and we’re neither better or worse off for it. I just wish the final scene had been omitted. It reeks of studio interference. I don’t want to have to wait for a home release to catch an alternate ending.

The Magnificent Seven is available in Australian cinemas from September 29

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures 

Movie Review – The Confirmation

Amidst the modern multiplex madness, it’s refreshing to find a humble little film about quaint father and son bonding.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

As his mother and her new husband prepare for a weekend away at a Catholic retreat, eight-year-old Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) reluctantly readies himself for spending time with his father Walt (Clive Owen), a deadbeat, down-on-his-luck alcoholic carpenter. Walt lands a potential job, but his prospects are complicated when his prized tool kit is stolen and he’s locked out of his house by his landlord. Anthony and Walt set about finding the culprit who nabbed the tools, and begin to form an unexpected bond along the way.

There’s quite a modest and old-timey feeling that courses through The Confirmation, the directorial debut of 60-year-old Bob Nelson (writer of Alexander Payne’s Nebraska). It’s a small film that’s intimate in scope and humbly unambitious, but it certainly has its heart in the right place. Like last year’s Grandma, it’s an unanticipated curveball situation thrusted upon two estranged generations, forcing them together through spontaneous hijinks and incubating a relationship in the process.

A true rarity for entertainment in this day and age, Nelson’s characters are (at least partially) defined by their religious beliefs, be it Anthony’s purity and lack of sin as a result of frequent churchgoing, or Walt’s abandonment of his former moral ways left behind with his ex-wife. Religion serves as a backdrop for the film, but there’s a sense that a lot more could have been made of this now seldom-seen motif; it’s simply there to point out Anthony’s morality. This is huge potential left tragically untapped.

Overall, it’s all a bit too straight-faced, to the point that it occasionally feels like the actors are reading directly from a script page. Then there are the odd, out of place moments of threat and violence that completely rattle the realism at play. This might have worked for a more satirical film, but it’s simply distracting in this unambiguous and clear-cut coming-of-age story.

What Nelson does nail is the father-and-son relationship between Walt and Anthony; it organically forms as the film progresses and we genuinely feel the pair pulling closer together. Clive Owen’s big screen appearances are few and far between these days, and Walt is a far cry from his typical action hero. It’s a restrained performance that shows the subtle gravitas of a man under such pressure that the cracks begin to show on the surface. It’s surprising how much chemistry he shares with young Lieberher (St. Vincent, Midnight Special) who displays a terrific innocence and wisdom beyond his years.

Ultimately it’s a simple series of misadventures between a boy and his pop, but their rewarding magnetism makes this low-key journey worth embarking upon.

The Confirmation is available in Australian cinemas from September 22

Image courtesy of Icon Film Distribution