After following a charismatic ex-con in docu “Bastardy,” promising Aussie helmer Amiel Courtin-Wilson goes one step further by casting former prisoner Daniel P. Jones as himself in the experimental autobiographical docudrama “Hail.” Very well performed by the mercurial Jones and his real-life associates, pic boasts a relatively conventional storyline peppered with heavy verbal violence, trippy visual metaphors and a cacophonous soundtrack that mark it as a strictly outre item for dedicated arthouse buffs. Fest programmers should take a look. Oz release date remains as yet unannounced.
Project evolved from 500 pages of memories recorded by Jones. The majority of what’s onscreen is lifted directly from personal experience, with some plot elements based on characters and stories remembered from Jones’ long involvement in the criminal world.
Pic opens on a tender note as Danny (Jones), an imposing figure with a straggly ponytail and no teeth, walks out of a Melbourne prison and reunites with soulmate Leanne (Leanne Letch, Jones’ real-life partner). More like frisky teenagers than hardened 50-year-olds on the margins of society, they succeed in establishing a warm, sympathetic vibe through their romantic talk and playful lovemaking.
Tone changes dramatically when Danny’s twin demons — booze and memories of the violence he’s witnessed since childhood — rise to the surface. He lashes out verbally at Leanne and at social gatherings before aiming a torrent of brutal home truths at Leanne’s severely disabled friend, Philip (Philip Letch). Consequently, auds can take Danny at his word when he says, “If I told you what was in my head, you’d run a thousand miles.”
Danny’s anger and the movie’s sensory assault are triggered by the arrival of Anthony (Dario Ettia), a heroin dealer and old friend of Leanne’s who offers to draft Danny into his operations, with tragic results.
Already confronting viewers with visuals dominated by extreme closeups, Courtin-Wilson ups the stakes with lengthy stream-of-consciousness sequences set to a deafening soundtrack of distorted guitar and audio feedback. At other times, lilting music and beautiful wide shots of tranquil scenes are briefly inserted. All of this might seem pretentious, but those receptive will be captivated by Courtin-Wilson’s fiercely realized aim to create sensory metaphors for Danny’s deeply disturbed mind, and the peace he craves but cannot attain for any significant length of time.
Graced with a wonderfully dry wit alongside his ability to externalize the rawest of emotions, Jones is a revelation. Active in a theater company of ex-cons, the thesp could easily have a future as a character actor in mainstream productions. Letch is utterly convincing in re-enactments of some very tough moments from her life with Jones.
Lensing on a variety of stocks enhances the mood of fracture and disquiet surrounding everyone who passes through the frame. The rest of the tech package is pro. Screening caught was on DigiBeta, but a 35mm print is in the works.