Depicting a father-son relationship that’s as tough as the Outback, engrossing road movie “Last Ride” reclaims the Australian landscape from the cartoonish cuteness of Baz Luhrmann’s “Australia.” Feature bow by 2003 short-film Palme d’Or winner Glendyn Ivin (“Cracker Bag”) is driven by Hugo Weaving’s seductive portrait of a brutal petty criminal struggling with single parenthood. This generally satisfying effort should buckle up for a long trip around the fest circuit and select arthouse venues. Local release is set for July; B.O. should be robust.
Mop-haired, wide-eyed, 10-year-old Chook (Tom Russell) and his far from reformed ex-jailbird father, Kev (Weaving), live in working-class Port Augusta. After briskly hinting at the edge-of-the-desert, edge-of-the-world milieu, the film quickly sends them on an overnight bus journey, from which they arrive, early next morning, at the small-town home of Kev’s ex-lover Maryanne (Anita Hegh).
Maryanne offers food for the weary pair and brief bedroom hospitality for Kev, provided they don’t stay. Kev intimates to Maryanne that there’s been trouble, but where the pair are going, and why, remains a mystery.
Like most young boys, Chook has an endless supply of questions. However, the detachment with which he witnesses his father’s illicit behavior suggests the boy is no stranger to breaking the law, and that he’s learned early on when not to inquire.
As they move from place to place, Mac Gudgeon’s script (from a novel by Denise Young) is teasingly sparing in its exposition, rarely offering more than a single morsel of background information per scene. It’s gradually revealed that the journey is tied to the fate of Kev’s pal and fellow criminal Max (John Brumpton), whom, per flashbacks, Kev and Chook have left behind.
The father and son’s fugitive status, their ongoing proximity and Kev’s shockingly violent tendencies inevitably ignite a slow-burning conflict. But in Kev, the pic offers much more than just another dysfunctional father: He may have a short fuse, but he also has substantial knowledge — and even a romantic streak — that he wants to pass on to his offspring.
The central twist will be obvious to some, but even so, it doesn’t hinder the audience’s emotional engagement as both characters go deeper into their respective hearts of darkness. The jarring finale may be good for the film’s commercial prospects, but it feels as though the script has suddenly lost the courage of its bitter convictions.
Known internationally for his roles in both “The Matrix” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogies, Weaving again demonstrates his talent in local productions for drawing sympathy from an ostensibly repulsive character. Brutal or tender as required, the thesp is simply riveting.
Newcomer Russell does an admirable job holding his own opposite such a powerhouse, particular in later scenes when his character reaches an emotional nadir. Supporting perfs are well cast and flawlessly executed.
First-time director Ivin makes a smooth transition to the broader canvas of features. Widescreen lensing by his short-film d.p., Greig Fraser, is gorgeous, whether bathing the desert in golden light or reveling in the natural phenomenon of South Australia’s shallow Lake Gairdner, which hosts the yarn’s major setpiece.