Ahmed Malek, David Wenham, Erik Thomson, Jay Ryan
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David Wenham is (as usual) terrific here, the outback setting is photogenic and the story sheds light on a subject – the connection between indigenous people and camel handlers – that’s been featured relatively seldom.
The Furnace is essentially an Australian Western, set in W.A. in 1897. At its core is the uneasy and developing relationship between Afghan cameleer Hanif (Ahmed Malek) and gold thief Mal (David Wenham). But to the extent that it’s interesting, the appeal lies in the interplay and contention of numerous ‘factions’ from various ethnic groups and cultures: tribal aborigines, white soldiers, Chinese people, and Indian and Afghani and Baluchi camel handlers. (The latter are all insultingly lumped together as ‘ghans’ by white bigots.) Everyone is wary of everyone else, and generally with very good reason.
After a tragic encounter with some racist settlers, Hanif comes across the aftermath of something equally horrific: the dead bodies of massacred Chinese men, and the badly wounded Mal. Hanif and Mal find common cause in trekking towards Kalgoorlie, with the object of smelting stolen gold bars and thus rendering them saleable by removing their tell-tale stamp of the Crown. As one character observes, the obsession with “yellow rock” tends to drive people mad, and there’s no shortage of unhinged behaviour in what ensues.
David Wenham is (as usual) terrific here, the outback setting is photogenic and the story sheds light on a subject – the connection between indigenous people and camel handlers – that’s been featured relatively seldom. But other than that, this is for the most part a workmanlike, linear and forgettable story. It gets better and more dramatic as it goes on, but not enormously so. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, but it’s no great shakes either. If you do want to see it, you’d be well advised to opt for the big screen, where the visual impact is obviously at its best.