Young Timothy (Michael Dorman) has always aspired to be like his truckie dad (Andrew S. Gilbert), dreaming of driving his own prime mover. When he gets a loan from some dodgy connections through Mrs Boyd (Lynette Curran) to buy one, he is on his way, and he also makes a strong connection with pretty servo attendant Melissa (Emily Barclay). In debt and in love, Thomas is a vulnerable figure and local standover man Johnnie (Ben Mendelsohn) soon has him in his clutches. Things begin to spiral out of control on all fronts, just as his truckie mentor Phil (William McInnes) had warned.
Review by Louise Keller:
Big dreams, harsh reality and a quirky fantasy make up the engine of David Caesar's likeable new film, in which a prime mover is the prime motivation of his pie-in-the-sky protagonist. It is hard to believe it has been 7 years since Caesar's last film, the urban black thriller Dirty Deeds which also juxtaposes drama with comedy. This time, rural Australia forms the setting and black comedy is replaced by a fantasy element. It begins with 'Once upon a time in a town called Dubbo,' and is what you might call, a rural fairy tale. Caesar is good at his craft and instantly engages us into a world of immaculately polished trucks, long nights behind the wheel and endless stretches of highway that blaze into the barren, red-ochre landscape. Like all good fairy tales, there are good and bad characters, as well as a central love story that grounds things as surely as the tyres on a prime mover.
When we first meet Michael Dorman's Thomas, we immediately know he is hopelessly lost under the spell of The Truck. Driving and owning his own truck is all he can think about, until he sees his dream-girl Melissa (Emily Barclay) at the servo, where he and his Dad (Andrew S. Gilbert) fill up at the bowser. Their romance is grounded in Aussie lingo. 'You're a good sort,' and 'Give us a kiss,' he smiles as he invites her for a 'burn' in his car. Dorman, who played Barclay's boyfriend Rusty in Suburban Mayhem is nicely cast as the likeable, naïve Tom who truly believes that 'having a plan for everything' is all he needs to make his dreams come true. Barclay continues to stun us with a totally different but irresistible turn as the girl with the Gypsy in Her Soul who adapts from being a calendar pin-up holding a giant spanner, to making a home in a caravan park. Barclay makes even the smallest expression important and as a result, we can't keep our eyes off her.
Caesar pays vital attention to every little detail that makes up the fabric of the story, and the casting is spot on. Gilbert's role as Tom's mechanic father cannot be underestimated - he sets the tone for the whole film. Ben Mendelsohn, who made such an impact in Caesar's 2001 film Mullet, is wonderful as Johnnie, the colleague who puts in a word when help is needed, but expects something in return, while William McInnes is excellent as truckie Phil. McInnes' expression is priceless when Tom first slips a tape of Melissa's gypsy-music into the truck's cassette player. Lynette Curran makes the most of her scenes as Mrs Boyd, the money lender with the manic look. I also really like Anni Finsterer as Tom's sympathetic Mum.
The risky fantasy element works a treat and there's a sense of the bizarre as St Christopher, the calendar girl and truckie come to life at unexpected times, in various guises and in incongruous situations. A screaming baby, an absent husband, no-doze pills and mounting debts snowball into a tangible nightmare and the striking visuals and empty loneliness of the landscape accumulate in their effect. Caesar mixes the perfect balance of drama and comedy to deliver an accessible work and one that I, for one, really enjoyed.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I enjoy David Caesar's films, he's a natural filmmaker who knows how to grab you from the start. He is also great at creating character with economical brushstrokes of his cinematic brush, as he does in Prime Mover, a fable that defies labelling but trespassing on that haloed ground of American cinema, the having and chasing of a dream. But I hasten to add, there is nothing derivative in this film, indeed it stands out as fresh and inventive, with great attention to visual communication. Where Sarah Watt (Look Both Ways, My Year Without Sex) uses illustrations to reveal her characters' feelings, Caesar uses illusion effects, ranging from halos to large revving engines as hearts. But the effects are subservient to the action and the characters ...
Emily Barclay steals the film - which is not easy to do in this company of first rate actors - as Melissa, the innocent young woman who is dragged into Thomas' dream. She is natural, likeable and subtle. Michael Dorman is a complete and well realised character as Thomas, the dangerously impetuous dreamer. The script has a perfect insight this young man in an Aussie outback town, a romantic whose dreams are simply unrelated to reality. Lovely and commendable as it is to dream, Timothy discovers that dreams without connection to the necessary reality tend to turn into nightmares.
William McInnes makes a solid (and mightily bearded) Phil, a man who knows from experience what can happen, and warns Thomas - but is ignored, fobbed off. It's a well judged, understated performance. Ben Mendelsohn, always a good choice, shows his seemingly endless range as Johnnie, the scheming and immoral manipulator who wields his power ruthlessly. Luckily, Caesar hasn't made him a caricature, and Mendelsohn delivers a knockout characterisation. So do all the supporting cast, from the smallest cameo to Lynette Curran as the backstreet lender, and Jeanette Cronin as Melissa's mum, or Anthony Hayes in four small roles.
The screenplay includes layers of interest, such as Melissa's parentage; her mother had always told her the absent dad was a gypsy, hence her love of all things gypsy including music. The resolution of this is one of the measured emotional highlights of the film. And there are many. Prime Mover deals in the everyday lives of recognisably Australian characters in a way that makes their journey matter to us. And it does it in unique style.
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PRIME MOVER (M)
CAST: Ben Mendelsohn, Michael Dorman, Emily Barclay, William McInnes, Anthony Hayes, Andrew S. Gilbert, Gyton Grantley, Jeanette Cronin, Lynette Curran, Anni Finsterer,
PRODUCER: Vincent Sheehan
DIRECTOR: David Caesar
SCRIPT: David Caesar
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Hugh Miller
EDITOR: Mark Perry
MUSIC: Paul Healy
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Nell Hanson
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: NSW regional cinemas: October 29; elsewhere: November 12, 2009