In 1902 the Australian Federation is a year old; 12 year-old Tom (Toby Wallace) lives with his sister Sarah (Hanna Mangan Lawrence) and his recently widowed father Nat (Aden Young), on an isolated farm at the edge of the woods. But Nat's dream of living off the land has died and he is losing his grip on sanity. When three ex-soldiers arrive at their cabin one night Tom, like his father, believes they are providence. But their presence becomes more menacing when one of them reveals a secret: he's found gold. As the lure of gold infects everyone around him the cabin becomes a psychological battleground in which Tom and Sarah's loyalty is put to the ultimate test.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Immersive in its mood of early Australian bush life, Lucky Country is a fable of this land as well as a story in which the best instincts of mankind barely survive the ravages of fate, nature and humanity itself. Muscular and poetic all at once, this is an intense drama which pits pride and greed against hope and despair - and is proud of the irony and ambiguity reflected in the title.
Aden Young delivers an excellent characterisation as the father, Nat, whose grief over the death of his wife a month earlier is only the beginning of his anguish. He's a Christian in fatalist's clothing, believing the Lord will always provide. He is in for a disappointment. Hanna Mangan-Lawrence plays his daughter, Sarah, a sweet but also wise teenager, who is trapped between loyalty to her family and a desire for a life of her own, anywhere but in this desolate cabin on this desolate farm. But it's Toby Wallace as her younger brother, Tom, who steals the film's acting honours (not an easy task with this cast), providing yet another performance highlight in a year (2009) already bristling with such crowns, thanks to films such as Samson and Delilah, Lake Mungo and Last Ride to name three. Wallace displays an extraordinary emotional range and credibility, and indeed, has much of the film's power resting on his shoulders.
Superb support from Pip Miller as Henry, a complex character with the charisma of a decent man and the danger of a survivor; Neil Pigot is fearsome as Carver, an edgy and equally complex characterisation; and Eamon Farren as the wounded third of the trio who arrive at Nat's cabin wanting just shelter but triggering a destructive and deadly chain reaction. Robert menzies makes a great impression, too, as the Rabbiter, with just a couple of scenes, but there is much work in them both. And in the third act, Helmut Bakaitis turns up as a preying mantis figure, distilling all the venal worst of the frontier that was 1902 country.
Kriv Stenders (of Blacktown and Boxing Day fame) shows flair and subtlety, a great sense of cinema and solid storytelling skills, although I am troubled by the ending - it delivers too little by way of emotional payoff for the audience which has gone through so much, invested so much in the characters and in the deeper, spiritual elements of the film. That aside, Lucky Country is driven by a purpose and is superbly executed.
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KRIV STENDERS INTERVIEW
LUCKY COUNTRY (M)
CAST: Aden Young, Hanna Mangan-Lawrence, Pip Miller, Toby Wallace, Helmut Bakaitis, Robert Menzies, Neil Pigot, Eamon Farren, Tammy McCarthy
PRODUCER: Kristian Moliere
DIRECTOR: Kriv Stenders
SCRIPT: Andy Cox
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jules O'Loughlin
EDITOR: Gabrielle Muir
MUSIC: Tom Schutzinger
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Lisa Stonham
RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 16, 2009