Samson & Delilah

A meticulous portrayal of the chaotic existence endured by two Aboriginal teens on an Outback reserve, "Samson & Delilah" is an engrossing and touching snapshot of an Australia too often left on the cutting-room floor.

With: Marissa Gibson, Rowan McNamara, Scott Thornton, Mitjili Gibson. (Warlpiri, English dialogue)

A meticulous portrayal of the chaotic existence endured by two Aboriginal teens on an Outback reserve, “Samson & Delilah” is an engrossing and touching snapshot of an Australia too often left on the cutting-room floor. Whether or not it succeeds in nabbing a rumored Cannes slot, this well-mounted, low-budget romantic drama is destined to become a pillar of the fest circuit, while cultural curiosity, combined with first-timer Warwick Thornton’s sure-handed helming, should also see this effort triumph with arthouse distribs. After winning the audience award at the recent Adelaide Fest, the pic goes out Down Under in late April/early May.

Opening reels demonstrate the titular couple’s daily routine. Samson (Rowan McNamara) wakes up to country music and the day’s first long sniff of intoxicating gasoline. The youth takes a guitar from the band rehearsing outside his room, badly plays a few raucous notes and then wanders around his township, occasionally racing in a derelict wheelchair for laughs.

While Samson is all play, Delilah (Marissa Gibson) spends her day in toil. Assisting her disabled grandmother, Kitty (Mitjili Gibson), with the labor-intensive dot paintings fashionable for a distant white population, Delilah interrupts her work only when she escorts granny to the health clinic. At night, Delilah unwinds by listening to flamenco songs in a pickup truck.

The pair cross paths at the compound’s general store, and the mute Samson lets his feelings for the monosyllabic Delilah be known in a loving graffiti message. Next day at the store, Delilah lobs her would-be paramour a packet of beef jerky.

Later, a delightfully erotic scene in which Delilah surreptitiously ogles a dancing Samson clearly signals the girl’s attraction to him, though she continues to feign disinterest; it’s Kitty, not Delilah, who greenlights Samson’s romantic ambitions.

After both protags suddenly suffer severe (but separate) beatings, they go on the lam, stealing the community car to travel to the nearest white inhabited town.

Though it sounds downbeat, the pic’s opening half-hour is as amusing as it is cheerfully uncompromising. Only later, when the two exist by shoplifting and must share shelter with an alcoholic (the helmer’s brother, Scott Thornton), does calamity intrude.

The story mercilessly displays the fragility of young lives plagued by drug-addled dysfunctionality and greeted in the wider world by racial fear. But though the movie’s images are confronting, the script emphasizes that solutions are never far away, even if the protagonists can’t always see them.

Helmer Thornton’s penchant for long, wordless takes will inevitably lead some to compare his style with that of fest favorites like Tsai Ming-liang and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. But Thornton shows a far superior narrative grip. Despite using minimal dialogue, he avoids playing hidden-meaning parlor games on his audience and simply tells it like it is: Every shot imparts plot and character information with simplicity and intelligence.

The film has an inclusive intimacy that partly comes from the quality 35mm handheld lensing by helmer Thornton himself, which avoids any alienating wobble-cam. In the title roles, amateur thesps McNamara and Gibson are both commanding — textbook examples of transmuting inexperience into authenticity. The only jarring note is Scott Thornton’s rough perf as the derelict, though he does show a forgivable charm.

Music, from a series of eclectic sources including the helmer’s own compositions, is ultimately revealed as having narrative significance. All other credits are impeccable.

Popular on Variety

Samson & Delilah


Production: A Footprint Films release of a Screen Australia, New South Wales Film & Television Office, Australian Broadcasting Corp. presentation of a Scarlett Pictures, Central Australian Aboriginal Media Assn. production, in association with Adelaide Film Festival. (International sales: Elle Driver, Paris.) Produced by Kath Shelper. Directed, written by Warwick Thornton.

Crew: Camera (color), Thornton; editor, Roland Gallois; music, Thornton; production designer, Daran Fulham; sound (Dolby Digital), David Tranter. Reviewed at Reel Room, Sydney, Feb. 19, 2009. (In Adelaide Film Festival.) Running time: 99 MIN.

With: With: Marissa Gibson, Rowan McNamara, Scott Thornton, Mitjili Gibson. (Warlpiri, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    'Zombieland: Double Tap' Hopes to Recapture Raunchy Zombie Magic, 10 Years Later

    Audiences may have a few questions about the sequel to 2009’s hit “Zombieland,” which opens Friday. Why did it take 10 years to make a second one, after the first grossed $102.4 million worldwide on a $23 million budget, making it the third-biggest zombie movie of all time (second-biggest if you don’t count “Hotel Transylvania,” [...]

  • AMC TheatresShop signs, Los Angeles, America

    AMC Theatres Accused of Firing VP Who Complained of Gender Pay Gap

    A former vice president at AMC Theatres filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday, accusing the company of firing her after she complained that she was paid far less than her male peers. Tonya Mangels, who was vice president of product marketing, said that in March 2018 her supervisor inadvertently sent her a spreadsheet that included [...]

  • Sir Elton John poses for photographers

    Elton John Calls 'Lion King' Remake a 'Huge Disappointment'

    Elton John isn’t feeling the love for Disney’s latest live-action remake. In an interview with GQ U.K., the legendary musician criticized Disney’s remake of “The Lion King,” citing the film’s music as a “huge disappointment.” “The new version of The Lion King was a huge disappointment to me, because I believe they messed the music [...]

  • Fiddlin'

    Film Review: 'Fiddlin''

    Not many forms of music have “old-” actually built into their name as a prefix. So it’s a given that the practitioners of the 200-year-old genre known as “old-time music” will wear their antiquity proudly in “Fiddlin’,” a documentary set in and around the 80th annual Old Fiddler’s Convention in Galax, Va. What may not [...]

  • Jonah Hill attends the press conference

    Jonah Hill Passes on Role in 'The Batman'

    After being offered a role in “The Batman,” Jonah Hill has moved on from the project. Why exactly Hill is passing is currently unknown, and insiders tell Variety that when the news was initially reported, it was very early in the negotiations and that a deal was far from closing. The news comes after Zoe [...]

  • Daniel Kaluuya Elizabeth Moss

    SCAD Savannah Film Festival Honorees Include Daniel Kaluuya, Elisabeth Moss

    Daniel Kaluuya, Elisabeth Moss, Danielle Macdonald, Aldis Hodge, Valerie Pachner, Samantha Morton, Sienna Miller, Alan Silvestri and Olivia Wilde are set to be honored at the 22nd Annual SCAD Savannah Film Festival. Breakout Award honorees include Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Jharrel Jerome, Mena Massoud and Camila Morrone. Macdonald, who appears on Netflix in “Unbelievable” and [...]

  • Alexander Skarsgard, Nicole Kidman. Alexander Skarsgard,

    Nicole Kidman, Alexander Skarsgard to Reunite for Robert Eggers' 'The Northman'

    With his latest film “The Lighthouse” set to bow this weekend, Robert Eggers’ next film has cast two leads, “Big Little Lies” alums Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgård. The pic, titled “The Northman,” is described as a Viking revenge saga set in Iceland at the turn of the 10th century. In talks to join Kidman [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content