Sweet Country (Blu-ray)
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|Contributor||Thomas Wright, Hamilton Morris, Warwick Thornton, Bryan Brown, Sam Neill|
|Runtime||1 hour and 53 minutes|
- Aspect Ratio : 1.85:1
- Language : English
- Package Dimensions : 18.03 x 13.76 x 1.48 cm; 70 Grams
- Director : Warwick Thornton
- Media Format : Blu-ray, PAL
- Run time : 1 hour and 53 minutes
- Release date : 13 June 2018
- Actors : Thomas Wright, Hamilton Morris, Bryan Brown, Sam Neill
- Studio : Transmission
- ASIN : B07985BXKZ
- Country of origin : Australia
- Number of discs : 1
- Customer Reviews:
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Australian Western directed by Warwick Thornton. The film follows Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris), a middle-aged Aboriginal farmhand sent to help embittered war veteran Harry March (Ewen Leslie) renovate his ranch. However, tensions between the pair soon reach breaking point and a fight breaks out, resulting in Sam killing Harry in self-defence. Now a wanted criminal, Sam and his wife are forced to flee into the outback as local lawman Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) gathers his forces and sets out into the wild to track him down. Meanwhile, as more details about the killing are revealed, many in the local community begin to question whether justice is being served.
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Based on a true story story and uncomfortable to watch.
Great performances outline yet another indictment on white invasion and the consequences for the indigenous population.
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To give some perspective I’ll describe very broadly now the first third of the film but will say almost nothing about the remainder of it.
We’re in the outback of Australia in the 1920s. The war in Europe, recently ended, has ravaged much of the young male population. Many never returned, and among those who did many were damaged mentally, if not also physically.
Harry Marsh, a homesteader and cattle rancher, is one of these veterans. He’s barmy to put it lightly, insane to put it clinically, a man simmering with hatred and bitterness toward the world and himself. So he kicks and abuses the things around him, most particularly the aboriginal people he encounters, half human or less in his rheumy, alcoholic eyes.
His cattle ranch is at North Creek Station a few miles from the next homestead. Harry lives alone, apart from the animals he tends. The work is demanding and tiring, and so is the hot climate. He could use a hired hand or two. But he’s too poor or cheap or both to employ any. Hence he does the next best thing: he uses slave labour.
He visits Blackhill, the nearest homestead to him. Fred Smith and his dog live there. Fred is a gentle, law-abiding, God-fearing man whose guiding light in the world is the Bible. Follow it and you will do little that is wrong. Two aborigines live on Fred Smith’s property — Sam Kelly and his wife Lizzie. They help out with the chores (Sam out-of-doors, Lizzie in the kitchen). Things are peaceful and orderly there.
Harry Marsh shows up on his horse one day at Blackhill. Greetings of g’day and introductions, then this exchange:
Harry (seeing Sam and Lizzie): Where’d you get your black stock from?
Fred: My what?
H: Black stock. Your blackfellas.
F: No, mate. We’re equal here. All equal in the eyes of the Lord.
Harry changes tact, sweet talks Fred into lending him Sam and Lizzie for two days. He’s digging post holes and putting up fences on his property. It’s arduous work and he needs help. Helping a neighbour is the Christian thing to do, he says.
The following day Sam and Lizzie go to North Creek Station. Actually, there are three people: Sam, Lizzie and Lucy (Sam’s young niece, perhaps 14, as Lucy has been visiting Sam and Lizzie at Blackhill).
Harry and Sam work in the hot sun. While they do Harry asks Sam about Lucy. What about her? Sam doesn’t ask this but his defensive look says it. “How old is she? How young do your girls marry?” Sam is reticent, silent. That’s his answer. He knows Lucy is not safe here. Harry tires, tells Sam to keep working.
Later he tells Sam there’s some cattle that needs to be brought in from the far pasture. Sam leaves to do this, and he must have taken Lucy with him because she’s not around. No matter. Lizzie is.
When Sam returns Lizzie is sullen and silent. He doesn’t like the look of this. She looks distressed.
Two days pass, Sam fulfilling their obligation. As they are leaving Harry curses them, screaming that they should stay off his property.
“No tucker, boss,” Sam says to Fred when they return to Blackhill. “No pay from that whitefella.” Fred curses furiously, rare for him, a man of God. He won’t make the same mistake again with Harry Marsh.
A few days later Harry enacts the same routine at a different cattle station — one owned by Mick Kennedy, another white homesteader. His ‘black stock’ consists of Philomac, a lad of about 13, and Archie, an old man with a long white beard. Archie was broken by the white man long ago, taken from his homeland and family as a lad, put to work, ‘educated’ by the whitefellas. Through a lifetime of servitude and self-abasement he has become a coolie and toady: yes, boss this; yes, boss, that. He never complains. He has no values, no conscience, and by now no identity. He is just a functionary, a beast of burden.
Philomac is very different. He’s young and mischievous. Curious too. He fears and distrusts the whitefellas, but he’s fascinated by their gadgets and power. They’re clever, he knows it, but not wise and generous. He has a mechanical watch of theirs as proof of their cleverness. It amazes him. He often takes it out of his pocket just to gaze at it admiringly. He could tell the time by it but doesn’t. Why do that?
Harry will borrow these two for a few days if he can. He can, achieving it by passing a bottle of whisky and packet of tobacco to Mick Kennedy.
Archie and Philomac fare little better than Sam and Lizzie did at North Creek Station. Archie is put directly to work but not Philomac. Instead, Harry chains him to a tree. Why, we wonder? Philomac cries out, asking the same question. Archie looks on, saying nothing. But later Archie will publicly say to those who wish to know: “That whitefella mad.”
Mad indeed, as you shall see as the drama proceeds.
A crisis leading to conflict occurs. Philomac has escaped his chains and run back to Blackhill. He hides there. Harry and Archie come looking for him. Fred Smith is not at Blackhill. He has taken Lucy into town (Alice Springs) at Sam’s request, Sam telling him: “Don’t like how that whitefella was lookin’ at her.” Sam and Lizzie are in Fred’s house when Harry comes looking for Philomac. His entry will not be gentle, civil, courteous and kind, as none of these adjectives apply to him and his character.
This is the first third of the film, the rest mostly an extended journey into sweet country, a wild outback region even wilder than that where the homesteaders live. Sam and Lizzie will make that journey, as will several homesteaders and an army sergeant named Fletcher (played with fanatical intensity by Bryan Brown: think Lawrence of Arabia).
One gets the impression the powerful outback sun has been too much for the whitefellas. Their heads can’t take it. They’re displaced, disoriented, dizzy and drunk half the time. They don’t belong here, these interlopers. They can’t stick it. They live on and off the land, but not within it, so to speak. They have no practice and experience of what this means.
The blackfellas are different. They are serene, patient, gentle. They wear the land as if it is their skin. Their demands are meagre. They take what the land gives them and have been doing so for over 50,000 years. The record of the white man in Australia? A drop in the bucket — roughly 200 years.
But the film is good by not being too preachy. It just shows what was/is. Intelligent viewers will understand, while the deniers will go on doing what they do best — deny. That’s been the pattern for 200 years.
A Guardian report just last week states that there have been over 400 aboriginal deaths in detention since 2008. It also says that over 27% of the country’s prison inmates are indigenous (from 2.8% of the national population). Something wrong with this picture? You bet it is. So the problem may be historical, but it’s also contemporary despite the on-going progressive efforts of those in white Australia who care.
The film won some indie awards around the world. Good on it. We need more cinema like this from down under — rigorous, thoughtful, insightful and honest.
The scenery is amazing... literally another world
Acting is great. Plot construction well crafted
Under-rated in general I think.