Jon Hewitt’s gritty no-budget second feature is a powerful depiction of police corruption in an Australian city. It’s familiar territory, and the police-procedural thriller is a staple of Aussie TV, as elsewhere, but what distinguishes “Redball” is its utterly nihilistic approach. There seems to be only one honest cop on this police force — a woman — and even she eventually heads into vigilante territory. Palace Films will be hoping for critical support when pic opens on limited screens. Severely downbeat nature of the material will limit theatrical results, but ancillary markets will offer the chance to reap solid coin.
Hewitt’s first feature, “Bloodlust” (1991), an exploitation schlocker, has the distinction of being the only Aussie pic to be banned in Britain. The in-your-face filmmaking style helmer employs here — handheld camera, grainy imagery — gives pic a documentary surface typified in the powerful opening sequence: A couple of uniformed patrolmen summon two plainclothes detectives to handle the discovery of a body floating in Melbourne’s Yarra River.
But the plainclothesmen aren’t interested; a “floater” is too much trouble. And anyway, if they leave the body alone it will probably float farther down the river and become another precinct’s problem. The rookie patrolmen are plainly aghast at the attitude of their superiors, but can do nothing — and the floating corpse becomes a grim running joke through the picture as it crops up in precinct after precinct.
The main story kicks in when detectives JJ Wilson (Belinda McClory) and Robbie Walsh (John Brumpton) are assigned to investigate a series of brutal child murders — crimes perpetrated by a killer the police refer to as Mr. Creep. During the course of the investigation — in which clues begin to point to another detective in the squad — JJ’s hard demeanor begins to crack. She, who joined the force at the age of 18 and naively believed in the majesty of the law, becomes so disillusioned that her partner fears she’s on the verge of a breakdown — and thus a danger to the corrupt cops within the force.
While the investigation into the Mr. Creep killings proceeds, pic explores the shockingly amoral world of JJ’s fellow cops, notably the activities of drug squad detectives Dixakos (Damien Richardson) and Malleson (James Young). In one of the film’s most shocking scenes, these cops confront a couple of young teenage girls heading home after a Saturday night in the city and, terrifying them into submission, rape them.
The world depicted in Hewitt’s deeply pessimistic film is indeed a grim one. The influence of recent American crime pics like “Seven” is evident, but “Redball” (the title is police slang for a high-priority case) manages to come up with original ideas while upending a familiar genre. Pic was shot on digital video and transferred to 35mm, accentuating the gritty look. Production values are modest all round, though the opening credits, designed by Tim Davies, are stylish.
McClory, as the seriously troubled but basically honest JJ, and Brumpton, as her partner, a violent man steeped in a culture of police corruption, convincingly inhabit their roles, and the rest of the ensemble cast does sterling work portraying the film’s thoroughly unpleasant characters.