TJ (Dean Daley-Jones) is a mad bastard, and his estranged 13-year-old son Bullet (Lucas Yeeda), who lives in the Kimberley with his mother (Ngaire Pigram), is on a fast track to becoming one, too. After another drunken brawl and being turned away from his mother's house in Perth, TJ sets off across the country to the Kimberly to finally meet and make things right with his son - and try to become a real man. Grandpa Tex (Greg Tait) has lived a tough life, and now, as the local cop in the outback town of Five Rivers, he wants to change things for the men in his community.
Review by Louise Keller:
Mood and sense of place is the main achievement of Brendan Fletcher's debut film Mad Bastards, which takes a candid look at life and the aboriginals who live in Australia's Top End. Conceived after Fletcher shot two music videos for The Pigram Brothers, a country folk blues band from Broome, the largest town in the Kimberleys, the film is an amalgam of characters and stories based on real events. Their music, with its easy rhythms and simple lyrics form the pulse of the story, which tells of a man who takes a roadtrip to meet his young teenage son for the first time. Anger, resentment, forgiveness and belonging are the themes, made all the more potent by the fact that the characters are played by non professional actors, whose stories resemble those portrayed.
Violence is a way of life for Nyoongar man TJ (Dean Daly-Jones), whose anger has got him into trouble on many occasions in Perth. Two thousand kilometres north situated on the traditional lands of the Yawuru people, his 13 year old son Bullet (Lucas Yeeda) has anger bottled up inside him. Texas (Greg Tait) the local cop is a rough diamond. Instead of putting his grandson in jail when he torches a house, he sends Bullet on a field excursion with an elder, a bunch of other wild kids and three camels, when they have to find their own tucker in the tough terrain. There's tranquility in the vast landscape with its wide open spaces, parched ground and enticing waterholes. Meanwhile, TJ has hitched himself a ride to bridge the distance and is ready to meet his son.
The performances are wonderfully naturalistic and there is nothing as incongruous as the men's group that Texas forms hoping they will share anything that is weighing on their mind. Trouble is, no-one is brave enough to reveal anything. Not yet, anyway. This is a film in which we learn about the characters and their environment wherever the camera is pointed. It's a brave and insightful glimpse filled with revelations and fascination into the aboriginal culture and the region - which film festival patrons will welcome.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Based on oral histories of the region, Mad Bastards is a harsh tale told in a soft voice by Brendan Fletcher, who uses a full soundtrack to calm our jangling emotions. The film is understated in its redemptive message, much like Samson and Delilah was, and while it has a few clunky storytelling moments, it's an engaging and touching film.
All credit to Fletcher's exceptional cast, all of whom live their performances, mostly fed on their own life experiences. With a faint echo of the searing New Zealand drama, Once Were Warriors, Mad Bastards looks into family dysfunction, violence and a culture that combines ancient wisdom with modern weakness. Drink is the devil - but the reasons for excess are only hinted at. Still, the story of a man who discovers for himself that it is he alone who can calm the angry little man with an axe inside him.
Dean Daley-Jones is a standout as TJ the mad bastard, Lucas Yeeda likewise as his 13 year old son, a stranger to him and yet dangerously volatile, just like TJ. Greg Tait as the boy's maternal grandfather and the cop in the region delivers a complete and vibrant character with whom we emphasise - and whose moral compass has been properly set.
Ngaire Pigram (whose many family members contribute much of the music) gives everything in her role as Bullet's self-reforming mum.
It's perhaps supercilious of white audiences to make pronouncements about the lives of indigenous Australians in remote areas and a world away in many ways, but the film offers such a clear window it enables everyone to see inside.
First published in the Sun-Herald
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INTERVIEW WITH BRENDAN FLETCHER & DEAN DALEY-JONES
MAD BASTARDS (MA15+)
CAST: Dean Daley-Jones, Ngaire Pigram, Alan Pigram, Greg Tait, John Watson, Lucas Yeeda, Douglas Macale
PRODUCER: Brendan Fletcher, David Jowsey, Alan Pigram, Stephen Pigram
DIRECTOR: Brendan Fletcher
SCRIPT: Brendan Fletcher
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Allan Collins
EDITOR: Claire Fletcher
MUSIC: The Pigram Brothers
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission/Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 5, 2011