×

Film Review: ‘Australia Day’

On Australia’s national holiday, three ethnically diverse youths each learn that beneath patriotism lie more sinister truths.

With:
Bryan Brown, Shari Sebbens, Sean Keenan, Daniel Webber, Elias Anton, Jenny Wu, Phoenix Raei, Isabelle Cornish, Ernie Dingo, Neveen Hanna, Chris Haywood, Neil Pigot, Diana Lin, Matthew le Nevez, Miah Madden.

An ambitious and powerful, if necessarily convenient, multi-character drama in the mold of 2006 Oscar-winner “Crash,” “Australia Day” is a meditation on cultural diversity and the questioning of national identity. As such, it holds a mirror up to contemporary Australian society and offers those unfamiliar with its tensions a relatively factual dramatic experience. Festivals would do well to find a berth for the film, and distributors around the world would offer audiences the opportunity to learn about a darker facet of life in the Lucky Country.

Australia Day is the nation’s sometimes controversial national celebration. Marking the start of European settlement, it has evolved to represent everything from chest-pumping nationalism to citizenship ceremonies to a reflection of the impact that settlement has had on Australia’s indigenous population.

These facets of the day’s activities form the subtext of the busy screenplay. In a lower-working-class Brisbane suburb, three teenagers are independently running for their lives. Fourteen-year-old Aboriginal April Tucker (Miah Madden) has just crawled out of a wrecked car she and her sister Katee, who died in the crash, stole to escape their abusive father. Seventeen-year-old Persian boy Sami Ghaznavi (Elias Anton) has been mistakenly fingered for drugging and raping a white girl, Chloe (Isabelle Cornish), and has been abducted by her vengeful older brother Dean (Sean Keenan). Also fleeing is 19-year-old Chinese woman Lan (Jenny Wu), whose parents back home had enrolled her in an English course that turned out to be a sham and landed her in a brothel against her will.

Each story ducks and weaves its way to intertwining climaxes. April is being pursued by Sonya Mackenzie (Shari Sebbens), a career cop of indigenous heritage who’s familiar with her case and both frustrated and now guilty at her inability to get the girls away from their dad. Mackenzie, in turn, is being warned off the case by Det. Sgt. Mitchell Collyer (Matthew le Nevez).

There’s friction between Dean and his younger brother Jason over what to do with Sami, even as Lan is scooped up off the street by beleaguered and increasingly desperate fourth-generation cattle farmer Terry Friedman (Aussie institution Bryan Brown).

Films of this scope must usually rely to some extent on narrative conveniences to justify the overlap of stories, and in that regard Stephen M. Irwin’s script is no different. One example: Collyer turns out to be Friedman’s son. The challenge is clearly understood by currently hot director Kriv Stenders (the smash hit “Red Dog”), who emphasizes naturalistic acting and an unflaggingly propulsive pace that leaves little time to question coincidence. Also to the film’s credit is the fact that each of the stories is clearly delineated and coalesces logically, if occasionally shot through with melodrama.

The members of the huge cast are each given an opportunity to flex their acting chops, and cinematographer Geoffrey Hall’s near-constant Steadicam along with Stender’s deft blocking combine to create an immersive mise en scene for the performances.

“Australia Day” will screen domestically in cinemas and subsequently air on cabler Foxtel later this year. Stenders and Irwin also are  collaborating on an upcoming two-part contemporary small-screen re-imagining of the 1971 Aussie cult classic “Wake in Fright” with Keenan and David Wenham.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Australia Day'

Reviewed online, Sydney, June 12, 2017. (In Sydney Film Festival, Special Presentations). Running time:

Production: (Australia) A Foxtel Original Drama presentation, in association with Screen Australia, Screen Queensland, of a Hoodlum production. Producers: Nathan Mayfield, Leigh McGrath, Tracey Robertson, Edward Herbert. Executive producers: Mayfield, Robertson, McGrath, Deanne Weir, Penny Win.

Crew: Director: Kriv Stenders. Screenplay: Stephen M. Irwin. Camera (color), Geoffrey Hall. Editor: Nick Meyers. Music: Matteo Zingales.

With: Bryan Brown, Shari Sebbens, Sean Keenan, Daniel Webber, Elias Anton, Jenny Wu, Phoenix Raei, Isabelle Cornish, Ernie Dingo, Neveen Hanna, Chris Haywood, Neil Pigot, Diana Lin, Matthew le Nevez, Miah Madden.

More Film

  • Bruce Springsteen arrives for the New

    Bruce Springsteen Returns to NJ Hometown for Surprise 'Western Stars' Introduction

    Bruce Springsteen returned to his hometown of Freehold, New Jersey to offer a surprise introduction to the first public multiplex viewing of his concert/documentary film, “Western Stars.” Dressed simply in a brown jacket, Springsteen took a moment to say a few words at the AMC Freehold 14 movie theater on Saturday night. “We knew we [...]

  • Backstage in Puglia del film SPACCAPIETRE:

    'Gomorrah' Star Salvatore Esposito Set For De Serio Twins' 'The Stonebreaker'

    Salvatore Esposito, the Italian star who plays young mob boss Genny Savastano in Italy’s hit TV series “Gomorrah,” will soon be hitting the big screen toplining upcoming drama “The Stonebreaker” by twin directorial duo Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio, who are known internationally for “Seven Acts of Mercy.” The De Serio twins are now in post on “Stonebreaker” [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    Box Office: 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Tops 'Joker,' 'Zombieland'

    “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is on track to give Disney another first place finish after scoring $12.5 million in Friday’s domestic ticket sales. If estimates hold, the Angelina Jolie-led film should finish the weekend with about $38 million — well below earlier forecasts but enough to top holdover “Joker” and fellow newcomer “Zombieland: Double Tap.” [...]

  • Maelle Arnaud

    Lumière Chief Programmer Maelle Arnaud: 'Film History Doesn't Have Parity'

    LYON, France   — As the Lumière Institute’s head programmer since 2001, Maelle Arnaud helped launched the Lumière Festival in 2009 and has watched it grow in international esteem over the decade that followed. This year, the festival ran 190 films across 424 screenings in theaters all over town. The festival will come to a [...]

  • Girl with Green Eyes

    Talking Pictures TV: Bringing the Past Back to Life in the U.K.

    LYON, France – Since its launch in 2015, Talking Pictures TV has become the fastest-growing independent channel in the U.K. with a growing library of British film and TV titles that span five decades, according to founder Noel Cronin. Noel Cronin attended the Lumière Festival’s International Classic Film Market (MIFC) in Lyon, France, where he [...]

  • Wings of Desire

    German Heritage Sector Applauds Increased Digitization, Preservation Funding

    LYON, France  — Germany’s film heritage sector is celebrating a new federal and state-funded initiative launching in January that will provide €10 million ($11.15 million) a year towards the digitization and preservation of feature films. Rainer Rother, the artistic director of the Deutsche Kinemathek, outlined the plan at a panel discussion at the Lumière Festival’s [...]

  • 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    Film Review: 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    In one of the intermittent revealing moments in “QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight,” a documentary about the films of Quentin Tarantino that’s like a familiar but tasty sundae for Quentin fans, we see Tarantino on the set of “Pulp Fiction,” shooting the iconic dance contest at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. As John Travolta and Uma [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content