Sweet Country (2017) ****

March 7th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Warwick Thornton | Sam Neill, Bryan Brown | Drama | Australia | 101′

SWEET COUNTRY is a good-looking, strong and silent type of Aussie Western providing a scenic and enjoyable ride towards a rather predictable finale. Warwick Thornton cut his teeth as a cinematographer and it certainly shows in this follow up to his 2013 outing, The Darkside.

SWEET COUNTRY crackles with racial tension in a stark outback landscape full of macho white males and their well-meaning Aboriginal workers who inhabit three remote outposts near Alice Springs in the South. Sam Neill plays Fred Smith, a respectful Christian rancher who enjoys an easygoing relationship with his Aboriginal worker Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris) and his wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber). On a neighbouring ranch, we meet the churlish Mick Kennedy (Thomas M Wright) who despises his workforce amongst whom is his half Aboriginal son Philomac (twins Tremayne and Trevon Doolan take turns to play the role). But worst of all is the hateful Harry March (Ewen Leslie), who one day asks to borrow Smith’s workers for a cattle branding job.

Harry abuses both husband and wife and eventually tempers flare and Sam shoots him dead in self-defence. Suddenly we are transported to an unknown frontier town complete with saloon and makeshift cinema, where Bryan Brown’s grizzled police chief Fletcher is investigating the murder with his horseback soldiers. There appear to be three distinct types here in 19th Australia: the white population;  Sam and Lizzie who look civilised dressed in period garb, and diverse packs of native Aboriginals who frequently enter the picture killing one of Fletcher’s men, a guy called Minty, with a boomerang. A court procedural follows but Sam and Lizzie remain tight-lipped over the affair. What emerges is both clever and slightly predictable but culminates in the thrilling final denouement of this ravishing Australian thriller. MT

 Warwick Thornton was born in Alice Springs, Australia. He studied cinematography at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. He is the director of the short films Green Bush(05) and Nana (07), as well as the feature Samson and Delilah(09), which won the Camera d’Or at Cannes. Sweet Country (17) is his latest film.


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