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LAWN DOGS

SYNOPSIS:
Camelot Gardens is a housing development in Louisville, Kentucky, where the neat lawns of its apparently neat middle class families are in a constant state of manicured grace, behind Camelot Gardens’ brick wall. Young Trent Burns (Sam Rockwell) is one of the ‘lawn dogs’ who come to mow the lawns; he puts up with the hostility of the security guard and the local teenagers for the meager wages that support him in his rundown caravan in the woods off a deserted back road away from Camelot. Newly arrived is the Stockard family, whose 10 year old daughter, Devon (Mischa Barton), likes to be alone, so she can fantasise – and what tough fantasies she has. Especially about a Russian witch who lives in the woods. Fearfully, scared the witch might cook and eat her, Devon searches the woods – only to find Trent. Trent, reluctant to risk misunderstandings by paying attention to Devon, is nonetheless unable to resist Devon’s persistent calls for friendship. The friendship does indeed lead to trouble, fuelled by ignorance, prejudice and bigotry on the one hand, and cynicism on the other. Devon’s friendship both endangers and saves Trent – literally and spiritually.

"Lawn Dogs is not the up-market sequel to Reservoir Dogs, but at first, we are not sure of just what is the film’s terrain: where is it going? What do these intriguing images mean? What is the symbolism of that shot with half a dozen young men mowing large, neat front-lawns? Judging by the young girl’s narration, it could be part of a fairy story. Well, we get to realise that it is indeed a fairy story, but quite unlike any other we’ve seen. Not everything is from the young girl’s point of view, but enough to show us how her head works, combining her curious story about a wicked witch with the story of a corroded community. She lives with her parents in the façade of suburban equilibrium, which masks all the frailties of the human condition, from sexual to social, from xenophobia to jealousy and hypocrisy. Mischa Barton is riveting as Devon, and Stockwell is both sympathetic and complex as Trent. The film is a gripping story and morality tale all at once, a piquant essay told with a bold mixture of naturalism and surrealism. It is both complex yet accessible, humanistic yet unforgiving of hypocrisy and hate. Edgy throughout, the film guides us gently for a while, elaborating on the line that there are people who own lawns and then there are those that mow them. Perhaps director John Duigan divides the two classes a tad too neatly and firmly, but this can be excused in a film with such soaring moments of cinema."
Andrew L. Urban

"Intelligent, moving and enchanting, Lawn Dogs is a very special film. John Duigan’s sensitive handling of this unusual, touching relationship between a child from a wealthy, middle-class background and a hard-working social outcast, marries child-like fantasy with a statement about contemporary society. The key to it’s poignancy is a thoughtful yet sharp script and two highly engaging performances by Sam Rockwell and Mischa Barton. Barton glows on screen with her big, saucer eyes and simplistic, child’s view of the world. She is hypnotic to watch, her enthusiasm contagious. In many ways, Devon is as much an outcast in her own environment, as is Rockwell’s Trent. Rockwell captures his character’s isolation and realistic appraisal of his own world with finesse and certainty. Devon is the catalyst that bridges the pretentious, cold world of the privileged from the highly manicured Camelot Gardens with the earthiness and spontaneity of the real world beyond. Stunning images of red ribbons hanging joyously from a tree symbolise the essence of fantasy and the joy of living. Devon’s fantasies are far from sugar-coated: there is bite and a dark side, shown clearly when she plays draughts with her doll, who loses a limb each time plastic pieces are forfeited. Lawn Dogs is a cinematic treat, an emotional and engaging journey and the crossing of paths of two memorable characters that will stay in your heart."
Louise Keller

"Australian director John Duigan has undoubtedly crafted his most hypnotic and exhilarating work to date, at once a beautifully detailed study of friendship at its most pure, and an astute examination of class structure in the American south. Duigan risks making a film that utilises both allegorical fantasy and a sense of realism, but the two do blend together seamlessly. Lawn Dogs is both funny and deeply poignant, a haunting work that manages to be uplifting without resorting to undue sentimentality. At its heart are two extraordinary characters, brought to the screen by a pair of remarkable performers. It’s no surprise that Sam Rockwell won Best Actor at last year’s Montreal Film Festival. The young actor delivers a meticulous, multi-layered performance as Trent. There aren’t sufficient superlatives to describe this child, Mischa Barton. Mature, funny, wise, deeply haunting, Barton is a miraculous discovery whose adult-like performance becomes the heart and soul of Lawn Dogs. With a flawless screenplay by gifted playwright Naomi Wallace, that contains so much more than one initially realises, and the beautifully-realised direction of Duigan, returning to the themes he presented in his earlier work, Lawn Dogs is cinema at its best, both entertaining on the simplest of levels, yet one of the most intelligent and affecting films of the year. The last 10 minutes of this movie alone will have you breathless. It truly is a masterpiece."
Paul Fischer

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 4
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0
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See Paul Fischer's interviews with

JOHN DUIGAN

SAM ROCKWELL

LAWN DOGS (MA)
(UK)

CAST: Sam Rockwell, Christopher McDonald, Kathleen Quinlan, Bruce McGill, Mischa Barton, David Barry Gray, Eric Mabius, Tom Aldredge, Beth Grant

DIRECTOR: John Duigan

PRODUCER: Duncan Kenworthy

SCRIPT: Naomi Wallace

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Elliott Davis

EDITOR: Humphrey Dixon

PRODUCTION DESIGN: John Myhre

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes

 

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: REP

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 7, 1998







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