Considering Australia’s wild colonial past, kangaroo westerns remain thin on the ground when it comes to our cinematic output. 2005’s The Proposition is arguably the best, though 1976’s Mad Dog Morgan and 2017’s Sweet Country could draw down in opposition, with the likes of Ned Kelly, The Legend Of Ben Hall, and Robbery Under Arms forming a posse in pursuit.
Looking to head them off at the pass is The Decadent And Depraved, a new low budgeter from Australia’s true west – namely, Perth. Though squeezed hard by finances that don’t come close to matching its heady ambitions, this remains a strong entry in our small canon of local oaters, made all the more fascinating by the off-shore influences that have so obviously driven its creation. The shadow of Sergios Leone and Corbucci (and a host of others) looms long and large here, from the baroque title and archetypal characters through to the slow-burn tension and lengthy set-ups. And while there are a few budget-and-inexperience-born misfires during the action sequences following those lengthy set-ups, The Decadent And Depraved marks an auspicious debut from young WA writer/director team, Jordon Prince-Wright and Axel Karlson.
A classic tale of two disparate men on opposing sides of the law who slowly form a bond and realise that they are not that different, The Decadent And Depraved finds seen-it-all Police Captain Jack Dalton (veteran actor, Michael Muntz – a Heaven-sent mix of Tony Bonner and Michael Pate – is wonderful here, and feels like he’s spent his whole career riding a horse and reaching for his guns) transporting notorious criminal, Leon Murphey (the fittingly charismatic and engaging Ben Mortley), across country to be hanged for his trespasses. The repulsively reptilian wealthy landowner, Maitland (Steve Turner is an extraordinarily compelling picture of utter villainy), however, wants in on the bounty, and he kidnaps Murphey’s daughter (after inadvertently but unforgivingly having his wife killed) for leverage. Cue a bloody mass of unholy alliances, moral ambiguity, and flesh-shredding cross-fires.
With its imaginatively salty dialogue and skilful use of its arid Western Australian locations, The Decadent And Depraved makes no bones about the fact that its antecedents are cinematic rather than historical. This film evokes the 1960s rather than the 1860s, flipping period accuracy for big screen cool, with its characters more reminiscent of the American west(ern) than the Australian colonial era. Jordon Prince-Wright and Axel Karlson have obviously spent a lot of time watching US horse operas, and their love for the genre is intoxicating, as they fill the big screen with excitement, attitude, and intensity. Yes, some of the costuming is a bit ropey, and the supporting and extras performances are a little patchy, but The Decadent And Depraved has so much going for it that you hardly notice. It’s an unapologetic tribute to the cinema of a distant land, but this bold, brave, budget defying wonder marks its territory with a strikingly local version of true grit.
For detailed information about screening dates and venues for The Decadent And Depraved, click here.