A terrific cast of Australian and British talent does solid work in this initially intriguing first feature from writer-director Stavros Andonis Efthymiou, who demonstrates directorial talent but whose screenplay is slight and, ultimately, too contrived. Modest returns can be expected wherever this road movie unspools.
Efthymiou, who produced last year’s successful “Love and Other Catastrophes,” demonstrates his cinematic credentials and taste by his references to other striking film debuts (a brief clip from Peter Weir’s “The Cars That Ate Paris,” a prominently displayed poster of Jacques Demy’s “Lola”) but, as with so many first-timers, his main point of reference seems to be Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless,” with its freewheeling combination of romance and crime, its loose structure and its frequent digressions and jump cuts. “True Love and Chaos” has all these elements, but at times lacks the sheer excitement for which the writer-director seems to be striving.
Pic starts promisingly in Melbourne, establishing Miranda Otto as Mimi, who works in a cafe and sings backup with a band. She’s hopelessly in love with, and pregnant by, Hanif (Naveen Andrews), but he’s unwilling to join her on a drive across thousands of miles of desert to her home in Perth for a reconciliation with her mother.
Hanif changes his mind when he and his buddy, Dean (Noah Taylor), impulsively rip off Dean’s drug-dealer brother, Jerry (Ben Mendelsohn), and hightail it with a stash of dope. Dean’s decision to rob his sibling stems not only from greed and his own addiction to drugs, but from the fact that he fancies Jerry’s girl, Ariel (Kimberley Davies). Hanif decides that the best way to get out of town is to string along with Mimi, who’s unaware of their heist. The trio head west, with the armed and dangerous Jerry in hot pursuit.
The film is gripping up to this point, thanks to the charisma of the actors and the briskly aggressive style of the direction and editing. But once the fugitives find themselves out in the desert, the pace slows to a crawl as a new character, Morris (Hugo Weaving), is introduced. Morris is a leftover hippie who sings mournful Leonard Cohen songs in cheap roadside bars and joins the trio on their journey.
Only the most indulgent audiences will accept the extraordinary coincidences and lack of police presence in the final reel, when astounding revelations and unlikely mayhem unfold.
Luckily, the actors — especially Otto, Mendelsohn and Taylor — are good enough to bring the material to life much of the time. Otto, a delight in Shirley Barrett’s award-winning “Love Serenade,” and also starring in the Cannes competition entry “The Well,” shines here, too, and demonstrates star potential. Taylor proves again, as he did in “Shine” and other films, that he’s an expert at playing neurotics. Mendelsohn confirms his “Idiot Box” performance as a guy with attitude to spare. Weaving is saddled with the rather contrived character of Morris, and Andrews (“The English Patient”) at times seems ill at ease with the character of Hanif. Davies has little to do in a rather demeaning role.
Despite its many qualities, the film is, in the end, too familiar and too slight. Efthymiou makes most of his characters interesting, but story requires stronger plotting to keep audiences involved.
One of the film’s major assets is the consistently outstanding camerawork of Laszlo Baranyi. Plenty of soundtrack songs help pass the time. Other technical credits are top-drawer.