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SILENT PARTNER

SYNOPSIS:
Bill (Syd Brisbane) and John (David Field) don’t have much going for them, a crumpled couple of friends on the slow side of up. They like their dog races and when the infamous Alex Silver offers them a chance to not only race a greyhound for him, but actually own it on paper, the men jump at it – albeit with some reservations from Bill. The dog, named Silent Partner, offers them a chance to do something in their lives, and when it comes a close second at a bush track, Bill and John sense they are onto something here. But the next race, in the big smoke at Wentworth park, doesn’t go so well, and the instructions from Silver are severe: dope the dog.

A study of male friendship in a couple of downers, Silent Partner is so well performed that you can excuse its insular, theatrical origins and its lack of cinematic dynamic. The close ups and the focus are part of the package. Well matched Field and Brisbane deliver their characters with great dimension, and the writing is faultless observation, but the meat of the matter is too slight to move us in proportion to the performances. Still, I like the nuances that make the drama work; the friendship tussles, the contradictions, the quarrels that see them see saw – just like a married couple, really - and the mangy environment of their lives. Certainly, the production design succeeds in making us believe there isn’t any. For all its accomplishments, the film is just too closed in to take us into their world. We never meet anyone but Bill and John (and the greyhound) which leaves these characters without a complete context. This is genuine arthouse material, and should find an audience, especially among those who like their cinema very focused.
Andrew L. Urban

Alikinos Tsilimidos makes his long-awaited follow up to Everynight… Everynight with this intriguing film curiosity. Silent Partner, based on a play by Daniel Keene, clearly displays its stage origins. It’s a two-hander, told largely through dialogue. Normally, this would work against it as a film; but Tsilimidos manages to make this a spellbinding contemplation on friendship (mateship, if you will) among those whom life and luck have largely bypassed. The film starts out as though its going to be an almost tongue-in-cheek look at greyhound racing; but it gradually becomes apparent there’s a lot more going on. There’s plenty of humour, especially in the early stages and, whatever you may think about greyhound racing, the race scenes themselves are impressively staged. The film doesn’t overstay its welcome at 84 minutes, and despite the limitations of the scenario, never drags. But Silent Partner’s biggest asset is that Tsilimidos, while wringing humour from the situations, never loses sight of his characters and shows great empathy towards them. David Field is the driving force behind the film. His character John is the irrepressible optimist, always looking for the silver lining. As always, Field’s performance is spot on. You can almost hear the years of hanging around dog tracks and downing VB stubbies in his voice. Syd Brisbane plays Bill, the more level-headed of the two, with confidence and (although it may sound odd) tremendous tenderness. Silent Partner is a reflective take on aspects of Australian life which are often overlooked in mainstream filmmaking. In a year when several terrific Australian films have been released, a smaller film like this deserves recognition for its courage and unique vision.
David Edwards

As in a reality TV show, the characters in recent Australian cinema tend to be starkly divided into winners and losers. The winners would include the good-looking yuppies in romantic comedies such as Better Than Sex; the losers tend to inhabit vaguely naturalistic films like this one, in which a couple of pitiful drunks make a bid for success that inevitably grinds them further into misery. Basically a two-hander, Silent Partner is adapted from a play by Daniel Keene that (according to the author) was originally written as a comedy. However, any laughs that may have existed in the source material have well and truly vanished in this sombre, plodding film. Working on a tiny budget, director Alkinos Tsilimidos opts (perhaps unavoidably) for long, static takes: in shot after shot, Bill and John are positioned opposite each other at a kitchen table, in the grottiest flat outside of a Rik Mayall sitcom, endlessly swapping the word 'mate' back and forth. Illustrating the perils of filmed theatre, the actors overdo naivety, drunken slurring, and broad ocker accents. The creaky plot and heavy symbolism may have been more viable onstage, along with the stylized rhythms of the dialogue and the device of keeping key characters offscreen (like the menacing Mr Silver, a figure out of a Harold Pinter play). Tsilimidos ' attempts to add visual interest don't amount to much, and the jaunty country-tinged score is distracting rather than helpful - though I can see why Tsilimidos thought Paul Kelly's ballads would enhance the film's plaintive examination of traditional Aussie mateship. But the intended timeless simplicity is part of the problem. The characters are types more than individuals, and the action seems to unfold surrounded by dead air - in contrast to the much more vivid, particularised milieu of, say, The Boys. The fumbled, compromised ending seals the fate of the film as a whole: while it's sincere and occasionally moving, it hardly amounts to more than an interesting failure.
Jake Wilson

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

See our INTERVIEW with David Field and Alkinos Tsilimidos

Read Brad Green's SOUNDTRACK REVIEW

SILENT PARTNER (M)
(AUS)

CAST: David Field, Syd Brisbane

DIRECTOR: Alkinos Tsilimidos

PRODUCER: Alkinos Tsilimidos

SCRIPT: Daniel Keene

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Toby Oliver

EDITOR: Ken Sallows, Alkinos Tsilimidos

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Justin Kurzell

MUSIC: Gerry Hale, Paul Kelly

RUNNING TIME: 84 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 16, 2001







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