Tom White (Colin Friels) is at breaking point as an architectural draughtsman, his middle class life overpowering him. His impotent fury is as confusing to him as to his workmates and his wife Helen (Rachael Blake). When he slips out of his world and wanders into the urban undergrowth of Melbourne, Tom embarks on a journey in which he crosses paths with people equally lonely, equally afraid of their memories and equally at odds with life's carbuncles. He finds temporary refuge, but often at a price. And in the end, he has to try and remember who he is. Or isn't.
Review by Louise Keller:
A road movie, where each stop is a different emotional encounter, Tom White is a complex and often intriguing drama, elevated by a fearless performance from Colin Friels. Candidly directed by Alkinos Tsilimidos, who makes full use of intimate and often unflattering close ups to highlight the angst of the players. Daniel Keene's screenplay is of a man who has lost himself and allows himself stumble into different worlds.
Pushed over the edge by his circumstance, every little irritation is another drop in the cup that is already full. 'I'm the man who was somebody else,' says Tom. 'I'm the man who stepped out one day and never stepped back inside.' We, like Tom, are drawn into the lives of the people he encounters. Each encounter is a separate chapter; the film's main flaw is its lack of cohesion.
Under the plaintive sounds of Paul Kelly's song 'Come and meet me in the middle of the air,' we are shown snapshots of all the characters Tom is yet to meet. There's Dan Spielman's wild rent boy about to be picked up; Loene Carmen's lonely Christine; David Field's bullying underworld pimp; Bill Hunter's deluded man of the streets; Angela Punch-McGregor's gypsy Irene; Jarryd Jinks' teenage urchin Jet and his criminal dad, Andy McPhee. And then we meet Tom White, living his very ordinary suburban life with a caring wife, two children and a job that is not going in the right direction. His hands are shaking, he looks tired, he is having trouble coping. Tom White is having a breakdown. What does he want? Not to want anything for a while.
All the performances are excellent and Tom finds a different headspace - first with Spielman's pretty gay boy who exchanges his pills and lifestyle for company and money. 'I'm an old hand at despair - trust me,' Matt tells Tom as he hands him two pills. Wearing his new gift of stolen sunglasses ('to match your dark outlook'), Tom meets Christine and this time affection and sex are the trade. There's a lull in pace before the final engaging chapter, when Tom forms a bond with Jet (Jinks, terrific). Rachael Blake's solid performance as Tom's wife is the film's anchor, and each time Tsilimidos takes us back to Tom's former life, the contrast becomes greater.
Tom White offers some highly truthful moments, although sections of the film work better than others. I found the film's resolution somewhat unsatisfying, especially after the emotional investment we have made in the central characters. The pensive a capella female voice echoes Paul Kelly's opening tune over the closing credits, forming a cohesive bookend to a never-ending quest for self-discovery.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Peppered with powerful, ambiguous and visceral moments, Tom White is a rarity in Australian filmmaking: it's a sensory journey on the darker edges of modern urban existence in which the journey IS the story. The images Alkinos Tsilimidos presents - in collaboration with Toby Oliver's remarkable cinematography - convey a complex emotional turmoil that we half sense, half intellectualise.
Colin Friels is superb as Tom White, a modern man confused by his world and absent from it. Tom could be any Dick or Harry, and White is the absence of colour: as is his sense of an absence of identity. Superb because he doesn't try to answer the questions raised in the screenplay, or played out in our minds. To the filmmakers' credit, nobody tries to find a pat response to his provocative and self-destructive behaviour; maybe there isn't one. Probably there are dozens.
Friels is strongly supported by the entire cast, dog included. Dan Spielman as Matt, a rent boy, Loene Carmen as Christine trying to give up drugs and her supplier and ex-lover Phil, David Field as the edgy, lurking Phil and his aggro dog (Deja), Bill Hunter as a street-wisened Malcolm (or is he really an angel?) - and Jarryd Jinks as young Jet, the 12 year old whose single dad is a thief. Minor supports are also top notch. And then there is Rachael Blake, as Tom's wife Helen, a beautifully subtle performance that is at once expressive and controlled.
The story has several stepping stones that lead us into mesmerising territory: Tom first meets Matt, he rescues Matt from a beating. Matt rescues Tom from depression - with pills. Later, Tom finds refuge in Christine, but he has to rescue her, too. Both offer him sex. He refuses Matt. The pattern continues with Malcolm and with Jet. Help and rescue, in a world so far removed from his middle class world, but it's only the type of pain that is different. Pain is all around, in everyone's world. Helen's too. The kids....
Throughout Tom's underground journey, his identity is in question. The film manages to touch on a multitude of other issues and ideas that bombard us in our daily lives, without really landing on any one of them. It's not a black and white world, as Tom knows too well.
It's a sign of cinematic maturity that we can enter the world of uncertainties like this. But there are flaws, too, like the lack of clarity in the passing of time. The production notes say the story stretches 600 days, or 18 months. The only clues to this are found in Tom's growing beard, hair, his changing wardrobe - but these are vague and could sometimes be mistaken for poor continuity. I'd like s clearer sense of the volume of time passing, for the sake of better context.
And despite praising the film's ambiguity, I find it's ending unsatisfactorily unclear. But these weaknesses don't undermine the solid accomplishments of a film resolutely unsentimental, bravely true to the director's vision, and technically (and musically) outstanding.
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INTERVIEW WITH COLIN FRIELS & ALKINOS TSILIMIDOS
TOM WHITE (MA)
CAST: Colin Friels, Rachael Blake, Dan Spielman, Loene Carmen, David Field, Bill Hunter, Jarryd Jinks, Angela Punch McGregor, Kevin Harrington
PRODUCER: Daniel Scharf, Alkinos Tsilimidos
DIRECTOR: Alkinos Tsilimidos
SCRIPT: Daniel Keene
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Toby Oliver
EDITOR: Ken Sallows
MUSIC: Paul Kelly
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dan Potra
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 19, 2004