In the past 24 hours, I’ve seen two Australian films, one via screener and one at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival. I love Australian films. I really looked forward to seeing each. The first was “Limbo,” directed and written by Ivan Sen. “A white detective investigates the twenty-year-old cold case of a murdered indigenous girl in this outback-set noir.” The second was “Christmess,” the fourth film from Aussie director Heath Davis, and a continuation of his partnership on film with the star, Steve LeMarquand.
LOCATION SETTING OF “LIMBO”
I was really looking forward to “Limbo.” Here are the good things about “Limbo:” the settings in the Australian Outback are about as foreign as anything on Earth. It looked like it was shot on another planet. There are a variety of rock formations that I’ve never seen anywhere before and the area seemed to be filled with abandoned mines, mine shafts, and/or caves. Unfortunately, the film was shot in black-and-white, so the settings (often seen from an interesting aerial point-of-view) came off as dull and monochromatic. This opal-mining area of Australia was fascinating. Even the Limbo Motel where the lead character stays is dug from inside a cave or rock formation. [There are 27 still shots of the interesting terrain on IMBD.com which you should really check out.]
Simon Baker looked like a cross between a more athletic Walter White (“Breaking Bad) and a more scruffed-up Ray Donovan, with tattoos, a beard, and, as we learn in the opening scenes, a heroin habit. He’s a jaded cop. Baker’s performance is spot-on. However, the writer really needed to give him a phrase other than “Fair enough” to continue to mutter. He said it at least four times; it got annoying.
In the first of these two Australian films, “Limbo,” the reunion of a young boy, Zach, with his father is ultimately what emerges as the final theme. The attempt to look into this cold case of Charlotte’s disappearance by hard-boiled detective Trevor Hurley (Simon Baker) goes nowhere fast. Everybody that ever knew anything about Charlotte’s disappearance is either dead, dying or refuses to speak to Trevor. Charlie (an excellent Rob Collins), her brother, is too screwed up to be of much help in possibly solving Charlotte’s long-ago disappearance.
We finally are pretty much left to believe that Joseph and Leon, two old-timers, definitely had something to do with Charlotte’s disappearance, but Leon is already dead and Joseph will be soon. Joseph almost gets his come-uppance in a strange scene near the end involving Trevor, Joseph and a gun, but ultimately Trevor rides off into the sunset.
The intrepid detective is called back to the office and we all forget about poor Charlotte. We are left only with the return of Zach to neglectful father Charlie’s arms. (Charlie says, early on, “I was out of the picture fairly quickly. And I guess that was just the easiest for everyone.”) In one last gasp of the slow-moving plot, Trevor drives teenaged son Zach out to Charlie’s remote trailer so the two can have a very low-key reunion.
It’s the best you’re going to get for closure on this one.
The second film, “Christmess” deals with a once good actor who has become drug and alcohol-addicted and is reduced to serving as a store Santa in a mall. He accidentally encounters his long-lost daughter, Nicole (Nicole Pastor), while performing his duties, and attempts to re-connect with her. Most of the rest of the film is about keeping Steve off drugs and alcohol (AA meetings, conversations with his sponsor Nick) and maybe reuniting him with his daughter for a Christmas day dinner.
Aspiring singer of the alternative indie band Middle Kids makes her film debut and contributes a lot of songs. One lyric that comes through is “Life is a mess, but despite it all, Love takes a hand and leads you on.” Matt Sladen also composed some of the original music.
The lead, once again, is Steve LeMarquand, who has appeared in three of Writer/Director Heath Davis’ other films. He is known for “Last Train to Freo” and portrayed Chris Flint in this film.
His sponsor in the film is played by Aaron Glenane (“Snowpiercer”). Nicole Pastor plays Steve’s long-lost daughter (who seems to want to stay lost) and Hannah Joy played Joy.
In a “Variety” interview, Writer/Director Davis said, “At its heart, Christmess is a celebration of the human spirit, the kindness of strangers, and the healing power of forgiveness.”
Okay. Two Australian films with good leads (Steve LeMarquand and Simon Baker) where we almost feel that we should all join hands and sing “Kumbayah” as part of the plot’s attempt to bring love to Christmas. Or else, let Hannah Joy do another song (she sang several).
The film shot for three weeks in Campbelltown, New South Wales. LeMarquand has been in three of Davis’ other films: “Book Week,” “Broke,” and “Locusts.”
I still like Australian films very much, but I cannot say that I was overwhelmed by these two. I honestly found myself yawning in one (I won’t say which one). [I seldom, if ever, fall asleep in the movies.] So, good location(s), good acting. Plot, screenplay, and pacing need some work.
My suggestion would be to take these two very interesting leads (Steve LeMarquand and Simon Baker) and find a project for them to do together that is more representative of the kick-ass Australian films I have learned to love over the years.