It’s not as though every film needs to be viewed through a lens of contemporary wokeness, but surely at some point, given all the Australian government film initiatives that funded High Ground, someone would have said, “So we’re kind of doing another white saviour thing. Are we sure about this?”
Travis (Simon Baker) is a policeman working in Australia’s Northern Territory in 1919. A manhunt escalates into the bloody massacre of a number of local Aborigines, leading Travis to seek the quiet life, which by local standards involves hunting crocodiles. Years later, Travis is coerced into leading another manhunt when Baywara (Sean Mununggur), a survivor of the massacre, begins attacking local farms. Travis sets out, accompanied by young Gutjuk (Jacob Junior Nayinggul), who survived the massacre as a child, and who has his own agenda.
Early 20th-century rural Australia was akin to the wild west, and the film (primarily shot on location in the Northern Territory’s Arnhem Land) brilliantly evokes the dangerous beauty of the landscape, even though crossing these seemingly vast distances appears to involve a fairly short commute by horse, or even on foot. Visually striking, and with the bones of an excellent film, it’s ever so slightly disappointing that the narrative falls short, becoming weighed down by its own worthiness.
It’s purportedly inspired by true events, and yes, it’s historically accurate to have a character call an Aborigine a black bastard before attempting to execute him at point blank range, but accuracy doesn’t result in a well-rounded character, and it’s the antagonists of High Ground who suffer from being underwritten. Callan Mulvey’s Ambrose is dishearteningly one-dimensional, despite Mulvey’s best efforts. His character should have had a longer moustache so that he could twirl it while laughing villainously. As Tommy, the Aboriginal boy raised by Christian missionaries who reverts to his indigenous name Gutjuk, Nayinggul is highly impressive.
The action sequences of High Ground are thrillingly brutal, but while the film is sporadically intriguing, it doesn’t feel as epic as it wants to (or should) be.
High Ground does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2020 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for High Ground here: