Starring: Dean Daley-Jones, Ngaire Pigram, Greg Tait and John Watson
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Runtime: 96 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
The title makes it sound Australian. And it is.
It’s probably a fair thing to say that Mad Bastards should be seen by as many Australians as possible. It entertains, but it also reveals a great deal about aboriginal life in Western Australian communities in recent decades. (It could be seen in conjunction with Murundak, the significant musical documentary about the Black Arm Band, their concerts, their range of protest songs, and the narrative of life for indigenous people in Australia since 1788, the history, the stolen generation, political refusal of an apology and the final 2008 official apology.)
A distinctive feature of Mad Bastards is that the writer-director, Brendan Fletcher, spent a decade with the people of the Kimberleys, listening to stories, appreciating the oral tradition, collecting the episodes and fashioning a screenplay for a feature film out of these ingredients. He also has a cast of non-professionals – who are completely convincing in their dramatic performances. During the final credits, the main members of the cast are on screen being interviewed, speaking about their lives and their experiences, showing us how the oral traditions have been incorporated into the film.
While there are a few sequences in Perth, most of the film has been shot in the Kimberleys and in and around the town of Wyndham.
The striking opening sequence sets a tone. Some young lads make a firebomb and one of them tosses it towards a wooden building which goes up in flames. He stands mesmerised, watching it, but the camera highlights the anger in his eyes and face. His name is Bullet.
There are two other strands of the story which centres on Bullet (Lucas Yeeda in a performance that is impressive and convincing). The local chief of police is Bullet’s grandfather, Tex (Greg Tait – who is also impressive in the end credits’ interview and talk about character, criminals and police). Tex has brought up his grandson for his daughter, Nella (Ngaire Pigram, also worth listening to in the final interviews), who has been a single mother since Bullet was born and who struggles with drink and brawls. Tex is a good man, a powerful influence for order in the community. He points out that in the middle of ‘all the chaos and bullshit’ the community needs a strong person at the centre on whom they can rely.
The other key character is TJ, Thomas (Dean Daly-Jones, also impressive in the interviews which make us realise how much personal experience he brings to his role). TJ is Bullet’s father. After a prison stint, and being rejected by his mother in Perth, he travels north. He wants to see his son. He seems desperate to make a new beginning after all the years of absence and neglect.
The drama of Mad Bastards is TJ’s journey and struggle for some decency in his life and meeting his son as well as Bullet’s ability to cope with this father-figure in his life. And the drama consists of a slugging it out fight in the desert between TJ and Tex.
Mad Bastards tells a lot of the story as it is. The making and releasing of it, the dramatising of what is wrong, what goes wrong, and indications that making good is possible means that the film is actually one of realism and of hope.
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