After a viewing of Sweet Country there’s an assumption that it’s a deliberately ironic title. Its coverage of prejudice and racist attitudes in the 1920’s to the indigenous aborigine population of Australia is shocking.
‘Sweet Country’ is an historical western set in Australia’s Northern Territory in 1920 where Fred Smith (Sam Neill), a devout Christian, owns a farm. Sam Neill is one of those great actors from down under who successful transferred to Hollywood appearing in films as varied and successful as ‘Omen III: The Final Conflict’ to ‘Jurassic Park‘ but throughout his career has made films specific to both Australia and New Zealand including the hilarious Hunt for the Wilderpeople . Albeit it’s very much a supporting character but h holds his own against the great Bryan Brown who takes up the mainstay of the film.
With Fred having temporarily leaving his farmstead its left to his farm hand, Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris) and his wife, to run it until he returns. Being 1920 the white population’s attitude to the aborigine’s was less than respectful in fact it’s downright racist attitude is pretty reprehensible so when an aborigine boy, Philomac (Tremayne Doolan and his brother Trevon sharing the role) having been chained up by another farmer manages to escape to Fred’s farm quickly pursued by hard man Harry March (Ewen Leslie) a foul mouthed bad tempered farmer who regards the boy as his property. It’s Harry that tracks him to the farm and in a fit of rage whilst armed with a rifle ends up getting shot dead in an act of self defence by Sam.
What follows is Sam & Philomac on the run in a bid to escape a posse of soldiers headed up by Bryan Brown’s Sergeant Fletcher. Brown is another great actor who also started in the mid seventies before hopping the pond to the US where he appeared in films like F/X, Cocktail and Gorillas in the Mist but never really capitalised on those hits. Which is a pity but here he’s got a decent role as Sgt Fletcher, a soldier with his own view on the aborigines and is happy to use another aborigine to track down Sam and the boy.
This is director Warwick Thornton’s second feature having started his career as a cinematographer , and this looks as good as you might expect. There are some very good moments in this and a highly effective ending however there are moments which are sluggish which makes almost two hour running time seem slightly longer.
Australia is indeed a sweet country and has given the world two great forms of mass entertainment. The first is the ritual humiliation of the English cricket team. The second is some truly great directors which goes back to the New Wave way back in 1975 with Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock. Since then we’ve had George Miller with his Mad Max Films, Baz Luhrman and his camp classics and most recently Justin Kurzel (Assassin’s Creed, Macbeth) and of course let’s not forget, Crocodile Dundee. Thornton never quite hits those heights this is a level paced drama that show he’s certainly going in the right direction.
Here’s the trailer…….