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TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN

SYNOPSIS:
Eight teenagers in the remote coastal town of Wirrawee set off for a weekend camping in the verdant parkland not far from home, as a simple adventure. But their lives are suddenly and violently upended by a war that no one saw coming, as a foreign army invades Australia and captures civilians in its path. Cut off from their families and their friends, they must learn to escape, survive and fight back against the hostile military force.

Review by Louise Keller:
A classic Australian novel gets thumbs up on the big screen as eight teens from a small country town are unexpectedly thrown headlong into an adventure of massive proportions. While the events may have broader implications, the point of view retained by writer turned director Stuart Beattie in his adaptation of John Marsden's novel remains that of the protagonists, enabling us to inhabit their world and thoughts as the world around them changes. Establishment of character and place is key and from the outset we become engaged with the individuals who opt for a few days of fun and adventure in a remote destination. Ordinary teenagers doing extraordinary things is the result of this action-filled adventure in which the previously important issues like school, parent criticisms and crushes make way for sheer survival. While its credibility occasionally jars, it's a likeable film with a good premise and a nice vibe, offering humour, romance, surprises and explosive action.

It is in flashback that we meet Rachel Hurd-Wood's protagonist Ellie (Caitlin Stasey is excellent) in her comfort zone as she and best friend Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood) plan a bigger and more meaningful adventure. One by one, we meet the members of the hand-picked team and by doing so, we get to know a little bit about them all. There's Corrie's new boyfriend Kevin (Lincoln Lewis), Fifi (Phoebe Tonkin, impressive), the classy blonde with equal good looks and insecurity, fun-loving Homer (Deniz Akdeniz, charismatic), who is the town prankster, seriously trustworthy Robin (Ashleigh Cummings) and Lee (Chris Pang), the only boy that makes Ellie tongue-tied. Chris the stoner (Andrew Ryan), who joins the group later on, brings some funny moments, although some of these are forced.

The film's first half works best as the friends set up camp in the remote, idyllic bush setting and have a whale of a time in the seemingly inappropriately named hideaway locals call 'Hell'. Two minute noodles, laughter by campfire and football fun splashing about is replaced by a grim, terrifying realisation of another version of 'hell' after returning home to find their homes deserted and parents missing. True personalities come to the fore as the frightened teens realise that the biggest risk is to take no risk. Then the real adventure begins.

There's a little dip in the storyline as Beattie struggles to keep things real and devoid of melodrama as the intensity escalates. This is the film's greatest challenge. However, there is much to like about it including the way the enemy is portrayed as a faceless Asian army. Things hot up as Ellie's dangerous driving skills offer an unexpected advantage and impressive stunts and explosions take us to an exciting climax. A mix of a teen movie, fantasy adventure and action thriller, this is an impressive debut for Beattie, offering a natural opportunity for a sequel.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Seven teenagers - and an eighth they meet along the way - form what later becomes a guerrilla resistance unit after an unnamed country leads an unknown coalition in our region in an undeclared war by invading Australia at three ports around the coast, including Cobbler's Bay (Port Headland and Townsville are the other two.) But the film begins a few days before, when Wirrawee-via-Cobbler's Bay teenagers plan a camping weekend and gather friends and acquaintances to fill Ellie's (Caitlin Stacey) dad's 4WD.

The breezy tone of the establishing scenes plays like any teenage adventure movie, with the characters jostling and joshing with each other - like the running gag about posh town girl Fiona (Phoebe Tonkin) taking her make up kit along and rowdy larrikin Homer (Deniz Akdeniz) as the Greek loose cannon.

Their weekend away at a remote but idyllic spot ironically called Hell becomes symbolic as they return to find something really bad has happened and their homes are empty, a dog is dead and both power and communications are down.

If you've read the book all of this will be familiar and the revelations won't be fresh. And if like me you are not one of the one million people who have bought John Marsden's Tomorrow books, you'll want the impact of these revelations to be more effective and powerful, more moving and dramatic than the film manages, and I daresay fans of the books will, too.

Despite that, the film gathers itself into a tight little bundle as it moves into second gear and the invasion becomes a reality we can see - albeit restricted to Cobbler's Bay, which tends to undercut the drama of it. A few similarly chaotic scenes of the invaders distressing the population around the country would help give the film the scale it needs to really make it cinematic. Likewise, a single fighter plane is the only sign of resistance from our defence force - and they may take exception to that. This weakness deprives the film of its potential sense of dread and genuine fear, without which it struggles to get us involved and committed.

A few false notes and an ill-fitting soundtrack further distance us from the central drama of the characters, despite attempts at making them three dimensional. In rather restricted screen time (except for Stasey as Ellie) the cast struggle to establish their characters but do pretty well all round, and Colin Friels as a dentist having to try surgery makes his single scene work a treat. Chris Pang as Lee and Andy Ryan as the stoner Chris - the eighth member they pick up in unusual circumstances - deliver memorable characters with something extra, as does Ashleigh Cummings as the devout young Christian, Robyn, forced to make a tough decision at a crucial time.

So while it doesn't all ring true, there are some tense highlights and great technical work, including Ben Nott's high class cinematography, while the crucial and spectacular explosion in the last third of the film will resonate with its target audience.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

GETTING BIG BANGS FOR YOUR BUCK



TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN (M)
(Aust/US, 2010)

CAST: Caitlin Stasey, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Lincoln Lewis, Deniz Akdeniz, Phoebe Tonkin, Chris Pang, Ashleigh Cummings, Andy Ryan, Colin Friels

PRODUCER: Andrew Mason, Michael Boughen

DIRECTOR: Stuart Beattie

SCRIPT: Stuart Beattie (novel by John Marsden)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ben Nott

EDITOR: Marcus D'Arcy

MUSIC: Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Robert Webb

RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 2, 2010







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