After years of active service in the Middle East, Ray (George Basha) lands in jail for manslaughter, in the process of defending his fiancée, Kelly (Millie Rose Heywood). He sees himself not as an Arabic man, but a man whose life and decisions are driven by his personal moral code. In prison, Ray befriends lifer, David, (Richard Green) and finds true friendship. But he also encounters an Arab drug lord who insists that he should join his gang of 'brothers' as an obligation. Worst of all, he is being brutalized by the prison warden (David Field) and other guards on behalf of the father of the young lad (David Roberts) he had accidentally killed.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Clearly with something to say, George Basha returns to themes he wrote about so sharply in his 2009 debut feature, The Combination: the cultural and personal conflicts that are magnified through the prism of prison and crime and ethnic gangs and official corruption ... Again working with David Field in the director's chair, Basha's Convict presents as a brutal story of a decent man - Ray (Basha) - buffeted by fate and challenged to not only survive but retain that decency. And to stay true to his own code.
The film may be criticised by the Departments of Corrective Services for portraying prison wardens in an outdated, barbaric manner (except for a couple of good men) and not true to the new image of decent, reconstructed prison officers. But the upside is that youths will be turned off crime to avoid landing in a jail such as this; the foreboding old Parramatta Jail.
By its very nature the film raises the thorny old questions about the treatment of prisoners: should jail be so tortuous as well as depriving crims of their liberty?
Perhaps more to Basha's purpose are the acidic truths he puts in Ray's mouth about the prison's Arabic gang, led by the grandstanding Mazen (Johnny Nesser). In one of the film's most dramatic scenes (and there are several), Ray confronts Mazen - both with a solid 'support group' of muscle behind them - to expose him as a self-serving hypocrite who profits from the gang he ironically calls 'family' and whose members he will have killed just to make a point.
The other message Ray delivers - to wonky-eyed Bas (Peter Sammak), one of Mazen's men - is in response to Bas calling him a dog and a traitor for killing his own kind, in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Ray is adamant: he was born in Australia, this is his country. For good measure, he skewers Bas for himself having murdered Arabs who weren't even enemies, in his own backyard - murders for which he is in jail.
Ray's relationship with old timer David (Richard Green) is one of the film's central planks and Green steals the film with a wonderful characterisation that delivers authenticity and world weary wisdom. Dean Daly Jones has a thankless role as a heavy, and he does it very well, as do all the supports, including young Tahah Saleh as the vulnerable and tragic Jade.
Millie-Rose Heywood is excellent as Ray's fiancée, Kelly, whose dignity he was trying to save when he stepped in to stop an aggressive youth - and accidentally killed him. The youngster's father sets off the vendetta against Ray through corrupt officers. It's not the first and only act of a hero that propels Ray into danger and trouble; it's as if fate was applying the old maxim that 'no good deed shall go unpunished' - in spades.
Indeed, the film does everything in spades and risks its characters being too brutal, too corrupt, too venal, too everything. Director David Field - always great to watch him on screen - wrangles the story well enough, and pushes all the buttons at his disposal, but I for one would prefer the performance levels turned down just a notch.
Technicals and design are all first class, as is Jodi Phillis' score - and some great original songs by various artists, including one by Field.
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CAST: George Basha, David Field, Brian Ellison, David Roberts, Johnny Nasser, Richard Green, Millie Rose-Heywood, Dean Daly Jones, Tony Ryan, Steve Anderson, Brendan Donahue, Frank Violi, Tahah Saleh, Josh Farrah, Peter Sammak, Luke Allen, Jade Gatt, Talitha Bosquet, George Nassour, Jo Bryant, Matt Lamb
PRODUCER: George Basha, John Tedesco
DIRECTOR: David Field, George Basha
SCRIPT: George Basha
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Andre Deubel
EDITOR: Michael Gruchy
MUSIC: Jodi Phillis
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Andrea Olive
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Gold Marquee, Backlot Studios, Pinnacle Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney :January 23; Melbourne: February 1, 2014