BLACK AND WHITE
Based on a real event in the late 50s in South Australia: when a 9 year old girl is found raped and murdered in a cave at Ceduna beach not far from Adelaide, police arrest Aboriginal Max Stuart (David Ngoombujarra), who signs a confession under duress, after claiming to be innocent of the crime. Local Irish migrant lawyer David O’Sullivan (Robert Carlyle) and partner Helen Devaney (Kerry Fox) are assigned to the hopeless case as legal aid defence lawyers. Prosecutor Roderic Chamberlain (Charles Dance) believes the police version of the story, but O’Sullivan drags the case all the way to the Privy Council in England. The extended crusade by a young Rupert Murdoch (Ben Mendelsohn) at The News finally embarrasses the into action, but justice still remains skewed against Stuart.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It’s one helluva great yarn for starters, and the sort of film Australia should be making. It slices open the social (black) heart of this society merely 50 years ago, to reveal it as not only racist and sexist but class-driven to boot. Stories of great injustice done to individuals by society are powerful cinema, and this story combines court room drama with a Big Issue. Bit like Erin Brockovich in a way, complete with small town underdog for a lawyer. (It’s about the only time lawyers can look good on screen.) Craig Lahiff and his production team do a sterling job in capturing the sense of the era, and the mood is poignantly carried on Cezary Szkubiszewski’s wonderful score. Lahiff squeezes top performances from all his leads, with Carlyle and Dance perfectly cast as opposites in every way. Mendelsohn is bound to score notes for his portrayal of a young Rupert Murdoch as a street-smart newspaperman, and David Ngoombujarra is effective and affecting as Stuart. A bit of clunky dialogue in a couple of lounge room scenes at Chamberlain’s home, the heart of the Adelaide establishment, slip through, but on the whole, the script and direction maintain their grip on our attention. Frustratingly for the curious like myself, the film leaves a handful of questions unanswered and some might complain that the judiciary and the police are portrayed in the sort of black and white terms that would justify the title, but sadly, that’s probably a criticism born of wishful thinking – that it couldn’t have been that bad. Well, just ask Max Stuart; he’s still alive, or was when the film had its world premiere at the 2002 Sydney Film Festival in June. By the way, Max Stuart’s full name is Rupert Max Stuart.
Review by Louise Keller:
True stories usually offer something extra, and that is certainly the case for Black and White, an absorbing court room drama about justice, authority and the media. But it’s more than a court room drama. This David and Goliath story involves us in the lives of not only the accused, but also the small town lawyer who puts himself on the line for his client and at the mercy of his ambitious legal opponent and indeed, the system. Like all good stories, when you scratch beneath the surface, the richness is exposed, and Craig Lahiff explores the fascinating division in both race and class. Only too well is the power of the media revealed and the fact that media tycoon-to be, Rupert Murdoch is a key player, has particular resonance. Never underestimate a lawyer’s ego, says Roderic Chamberlain, and although he is referring to David O’Sullivan, the relevance to himself becomes more and more apparent as the story plays out. Lines like ‘politics have nothing to do with justice’ are harsh fuel for thought; it’s an intelligent film with characters wonderfully brought to life by a richly diverse and talented cast. Charles Dance positively sparkles as the arrogant, cold QC who treats his wife with the same supercilious indifference as his opponent in the court room, while Robert Carlyle’s sincere, dignified O’Sullivan blends the right amount of courage, insecurity and humility. Inspired casting brings Ben Mendelsohn to the screen as the young Murdoch, who delivers some of the film’s most entertaining moments. David Ngoombujarra does a great job as the bewildered, condemned Aboriginal man, who finds an unexpected ally in the local Catholic Priest, convincingly played by Colin Friels. All the cast is excellent – from Kerry Fox’s pragmatic and whisky-loving legal partner to Roy Billing’s corrupt, cruel policeman. Rarely has a musical score been so effecting, and talented composer Cezary Skubiszewski reinforces the heart with a haunting and diverse soundtrack. Geoffrey Simpson’s beautiful cinematography shows off contrasting imagery of desolate Australian countryside with the starkness of the courtroom. But unlike the title, life is far from black and white, and this satisfying journey offers us a menu of many of its shades of grey.
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CRAIG LAHIFF INTERVIEW by Andrew L. Urban
BLACK AND WHITE (M)
CAST: Robert Carlyle, Charles Dance, Kerry Fox, Colin Friels, Ben Mendelsohn, David Ngoombujarra
PRODUCER: Helen Leake, Nik Powell
DIRECTOR: Craig Lahiff
SCRIPT: Louis Nowra
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Geoffrey Simpson ACS
EDITOR: Lee Smith
MUSIC: Cezary Szkubiszewski
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Murray Picknett
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: New Vision
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 31, 2002 (advance screenings October 25, 26, 27, 2002)
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: 21st Century Pictures Video
VIDEO RELEASE: February 19, 2003 (Also on DVD)