Last Ride

Director: Glendyn Ivin
Starring: Hugo Weaving, Tom Russell, Anita Hegh and John Brumpton
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Runtime: 98 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Mature themes, violence and coarse language

An unusual relationship between a father and son is the basis of Last Ride, an adaptation by veteran screenwriter Mac Gudgeon of a novel by Denise Young that was set in and around Broken Hill, although the film has been eye-catchingly shot in South Australian locations, notably the Flinders Ranges.

It is unusual, first, because the father, Kev, is not a nice man. He is surly, a thief and prone to violent outbursts that have brought him spells in jail. But he is a memorable character thanks to Hugo Weaving’s dynamic performance. With several days’ stubble, a set of tatts and a dreadful haircut, Weaving is almost unrecognisable as the suave actor of yore. It must count among his most effective portrayals.

Playing opposite Weaving is young Tom Russell, in the demanding role of 10-year-old Chook. They are on screen virtually the whole time, other characters being fairly peripheral to the study of father and son thrown together journeying through the backblocks, and the young actor is remarkably composed and compelling.

The two of them are on the run – or rather, Kev is on the run and he has taken the boy along with him. At first, it is hard to see why. We don’t know exactly what Kev is running from, and it is clear from the start that the two are not close. Kev has been hardly a model father since the boy’s mother decamped. In fact, he has left Chook in the charge of a friend named Max (John Brumpton), to whom the boy is more attached. “He was a proper dad,” says Chook tellingly at one point.

But here they are, on the run. They call at the home of one of Kev’s old girlfriends (Anita Hegh) hoping for a place to stay. They pinch cars. They break into an Afghan museum, where Chook becomes intrigued by the history of the camel drivers in the district. They rifle the belongings of people at a campsite. They meet up with an Aboriginal park ranger (Kelton Pell) in a national forest where Kev has lit an illegal campfire (a lovely scene).

Kev is, in his own words, “a bushie” and he is taking Chook to places he visited in the past, even places where his own father took him. Even though he does not have the words to say it, and even though he belts the child for a misdemeanour, this odyssey is his act of love towards the boy. And as the reasons for their flight are gradually revealed, it becomes clear that Kev’s love for his son is real enough, but mostly hidden by his external behaviour.

As for the boy, although he feels that his father has let him down in many ways – one very serious – he clings to the instinctive hope that Kev will turn out to be a real father to him.

This is a film that could never be accused of being stereotypical. Director Glendyn Ivin (his first feature after winning at Cannes in 2003 for his short film Cracker Bag) handles the story with care and attention to detail. Because so much is unspoken, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of growth in this relationship between father and son so at times it seems slow-moving. And the way their relationship is resolved is quite out of the ordinary. In fact, the ending is a strain on credulity, particularly the boy’s course of action.

Visually it is wonderful. Greig Fraser’s photography makes the absolute most of the photogenic mountains, the desert, a wood and even a lake with only a centimetre or two of water above the sand.

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