Amidst the whitewashed society of the titian Australian outback, local farm serf Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris) is on the run after shooting a raging, racist ranch owner in self-defence. Using the lore of his land to escape the law of the pursuing “whitefellas”, Kelly initiates a stirring game of cat and mouse which puts humanity’s faltering moral compass to the test.
Director Warwick Thornton follows the breakthrough success of Samson and Delilah with the ironically titled Sweet Country, a gnarly Western set in Central Australia, where the boundaries between good and evil are blurred. The film utilises the vast, natural landscapes as a way of underlining the hardships each character faces whilst at the same time subverting typical Western tropes to create an environment with no room for heroism.
Not only is Thornton’s picture visually arresting, but the use of sound (or lack of) is starkly effective. Natural noises replace overtly zealous overtures, embodying an isolating realism which traps its audience in time and place. Rather than resorting to gory, grisly visuals to depict violence, sounds are used to describe most of the action occurring off-screen. This tactic has been employed effectively before in Ben Young’s Hounds of Love, illustrating the importance of audio in creating atmosphere and tension.
Sweet Country is a film without heroes or villains, exploiting raw human nature in all its entirety. Morris, who plays Sam Kelly, gives depth to a character who is stripped of identity and creed, whilst Ewan Leslie contrasts this with his defiant performance as the unstable Harry March. Bryan Brown embodies the role of Sergeant Fletcher with fierce intensity, complementing the unforgiving surroundings with his equally merciless nature.
It is filmmakers like Thornton who push against the restraints of genre tropes, and who help keep cinema fresh and exciting. Sweet Country combines folklore and barbaric realism to create a poignant, compelling narrative which resonates with a modern audience.
Sweet Country is released in select cinemas on 9th March 2018.
Watch the trailer for Sweet Country here: