Bryan Brown, Shari Sebbens, Sean Keenan, Matthew Le Nevez, Neveen Hanna
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A big, broiling stew of complex thought, Australia Day is a provocative, intelligent film that dares to pick, probe and ask a lot of burning questions.
Cogently directed (by the ever busy Kriv Stenders, the man behind such high quality and disparate works as Red Dog, Lucky Country, The Go-Betweens: Right Here, and TV’s upcoming Wake In Fright) and smartly written (by Stephen M. Irwin, who penned the impressive TV series, Secrets & Lies), Australia Day runs like a tick-off list of the various ills currently picking at the seams of our great (and sometimes not so great) nation.
It’s all here: black-white relationships; irresponsible policing; people smuggling; the plight of our farmers; the continual presence of unsympathetic politicians; the growing racism in our seemingly polite suburbs; the cruelty and exploitation of the sex work industry; the widening generation gap; and the increasingly fraught societal role of Middle Eastern-Australians. But don’t get the wrong idea – this is no “message movie”, bogged down in weighty ideas and political correctness. Australia Day focuses its themes through rich characterisation, and gives them flight via a sense of pacing that would do any thriller proud.
A separate but inter-connected narrative in the vein of Crash or the seminal works of Robert Altman, Australia Day literally starts on the run, with three characters legging it through the steamy streets of contemporary Brisbane. Middle Eastern heritage youth, Sami (Elias Anton), is on the run from the brother of the girl that he’s just shared drugs and a bed with; Aboriginal teen, April (Miah Madden), is fleeing a car wreck after being pursued by police; and terrified Asian woman, Lan Chang (Jenny Wu), is heading away from a life that has her coursing with fear and desperation. These three characters’ sore and tired legs will send them spinning into the orbits of a number of other players with their own problems: a compromised Aboriginal policewoman (Shari Sebbens); a down-on-his-luck farmer (Bryan Brown); a beer swilling Aussie bigot (Sean Keenan); a no-nonsense detective (Matthew Le Nevez); and a Middle Eastern Lady Macbeth (Neveen Hanna).
Proving that you don’t need an exorbitant running time to canvas a swathe of big issues, Kriv Stenders delivers the very definition of cinematic economy here, not wasting a single frame in telling his broad spectrum story. The connections between the characters and stories are never too forced or gimmicky, and the narrative moves at an impressively breakneck speed while never tripping over itself. The performances, meanwhile, are across-the-board brilliant, with Bryan Brown and Sean Keenan standing out largely because they fill the shoes of the most moving and eye catching characters, respectively. A big, broiling stew of complex thought, Australia Day is a provocative, intelligent film that dares to pick, probe and ask a lot of burning questions. It doesn’t presume to have all the answers, but that just adds to the film’s strengths. Life doesn’t usually come complete with easy solutions, and neither does Australia Day. Sincere, ambitious, and truthful, this is an Aussie film worth celebrating.