Set in 1929, Sweet Country walks the razors edge of race relations between aboriginals and whites deep in the Australian. The relationship between the communities span from being treated with respect and dignity to being seen as property depending on whose land you’re on. The aborigines work as ranch hands and domestic help on white owned properties, while the expansions of white settlers continue to encroach on their historical lands.
Sam Neil’s Fred Smith is at one end of the relationship spectrum. He is a preacher who treats his workers, Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris) and his wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber), respect and sees them as equals in the eyes of God. Fred is vastly different from his nearby neighbour Mick Kennedy (Thomas M. Wright) who beats his teenage aboriginal helper Philomac (Tremayne/Trevon Doolan) for small things like stealing a watermelon from the garden. On the far end of the opposite of the spectrum is war veteran Harry March (Ewen Leslie). Using alcohol to deal with his PTSD, Harry has a violent streak in him a mile long. One that leads to the raping Lizze, the eventual tying up of Philomac, who is on loan to him, and act of self defense that will force Sam to flee for his life.
Director Warwick Thornton’s visually stunning western explores frontier justice and the historical injustices that aboriginal men and women have endured. The latter of which is emphasized when the local law enforcement, Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) who will stop at nothing, despite not having the deep knowledge of the land like Sam, to bring the fugitive to justice. As the tale unfolds Thornton uses the nifty device of flash forwards to give a glimpse of the murky futures that are in story for the main participants.
Thornton framing devices are extremely effective thanks in part to the great work of his cast. Sam Neil continues his streak of strong performances as the steady handed Fred. Hamilton Morris and Tremayne/Trevon Doolan more than hold their own, often stealing the film away from the likes of Neil and Brown, by showing the complexities of their characters place in within society. Credit must also go to Ewen Leslie who is powerful in the limited role of the volatile Harry Marsh.
Sweet Country is a stunning examination of racial injustice that sadly still have ripple effects to this day.
Thursday, October 19, 9:15 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Ticket information can be found at the imagineNATIVE website.