Friday, 11 October 2013

Wake in Fright (1971) - ★★★★★

Director: Ted Kotcheff
Writers: Kenneth Cook (novel), Evan Jones
Stars: Gary Bond, Donald Pleasence, Chips Rafferty, Sylvia Kay, Jack Thompson, John Meillon

Wake in Fright is one of the most shocking, well-made, unforgettable movies I've ever seen. The cinematography, performances, realistic portrayal of outback Australia, and brutal suspense captivated me in a way that no other film ever has. The only real drawback for me was the disturbing kangaroo hunting scenes, but that happened and still happens in Australia today, so I respect Ted Kotcheff for having the guts to reveal the disgusting practice to the world. It's a film that's easy to hate, but even harder to love. To me, it is a perfect film. It has arguably the greatest story and character development in cinematic history. Alcohol and peer-pressure can change even the most intelligent of men, and that's what we see in this searing and honest story.

John Grant (Gary Bond) is a middle school teacher that was assigned to the outback in order to pay off his debt. On his travels, he ends up in Bundanyabba, a small rural mining town where one of the local's asks "Why would you ever want to leave?" John meets the local police man Jock Crawford (Chips Rafferty), who coaxes him into constantly drinking. "Have another one," he'd say, as a refusal would be taken as an insult. This makes John lose his inhibitions and common sense, leading to him losing all of his money by gambling. Stuck in The Yabba, John relies on the locals to get by from day to day, but all they ever seem to do is get him drunk and into more trouble.

What makes this story so masterful is its authenticity. If you want to see a movie that honestly portrays a certain group of Australian's, then Wake in Fright is one of the best. The clothes, the dialogue, the expressions, the gestures, the gambling games, the environment... it's all 100% Australian and I love it! Modern Australian movies try too hard to be like Hollywood productions. Seeing this movie made me realise how great and diverse the Australian Film Industry really is. It belongs to a small group of films that I'd call "True Blue Aussie Masterpieces."

Many critics devote most of their review to talking about "man's primal instinct" and lots of intelligent, psychological theories. All I can really say is how I feel. What I saw was a man that was discontent with his life, and wanted to go out for a bit of fun. His actions I blame on two things: 1) Overconsumption of alcohol, and 2) His inability to say "no." This led to him mixing with the wrong people, losing his money over a stupid game, and then having no back-up plan to leave The Yabba. I don't think there's much more to say than that really. He made some stupid choices, which lead to unbelievable consequences.

It's a surprisingly suspenseful film. The hot environment, crowded pubs, small town, and loud noises made me feel claustrophobic. I wanted nothing more than for John to get out of there as soon as possible! Ever since he entered The Yabba, I felt so invested in his story. I kept putting myself in his position, and thinking about what the hell I would do in those situations. The cinematography and music did wonders for setting the tone of the film. 'Insane' would be the word I'd use to describe it.

Gary Bond gave a stunning, perfect performance as our protagonist. He's the man we're rooting for all the way through, even though he's not a particularly likable person. He reminds me so much of a young Peter O'toole, and I don't think even that masterful actor could have pulled this role off better than Bond did. The fear in his eyes, the desperation in his voice and expressions, the way his character slowly went downhill. It was just a perfect performance, one worthy of the Oscar for Best Actor. You know what? I would give him that award in a heartbeat.

The supporting performances is what makes this movie so legendary. They're the heart and soul of the film, that make it feel 100% Australian. Donald Pleasence, who isn't even Aussie, could've fooled me. He gave me chills I tell you! CHILLS! His maniacal laugh, his disgusting appearance, the way his eyes showed hints of madness. He deserved Best Supporting Actor 1971! It's his greatest performance. Chips Rafferty, a legendary Aussie actor, was also perfection as the policeman that instigated John to drink. I don't know how to say this without sounding cheesy, but he really captures the Aussie spirit. There are also fantastic performances by Sylvia Kay, Jack Thompson, and John Meillon, all legendary Aussie actors in their own right. You couldn't have asked for a better cast.

WARNING | Wake in Fright contains some of the most shocking scenes in the history of cinema. If you cannot handle images of animal abuse, or killing, then think before you watch this film. I'd never say 'don't watch this film' because I think everyone should see it. The film-makers did not kill any animals for the purpose of the film, apparently they went on a real licensed kangaroo hunt with professionals and just filmed what they saw. If you think A Clockwork Orange was bad, wait until you see this.

You know what? This is a film that I have no true desire to ever watch again. I'm so glad that I saw it though. It's one of the most unique films I've ever seen. A perfect film, really. If you're interested in Australian cinema, classic cinema, or just pure masterpieces, then go see Wake in Fright. But approach with caution, because some scenes are so strong that I had to cover my eyes (my mother had to leave the room).


  1. Thanks for your comments at my site and for becoming a Follower. I'm not on Google plus so I can't return the favor, but I have bookmarked your site. I don't know if you're the kind of person that re-visits to see responses to your comments or not. In case you are not, I left some tips regarding the 1,001 Movies. I also figured I would respond on Wake in Fright - not to argue, but simply to explain why it did not work for me.

    One of the first things I thought when this film started was, "Is that Peter O'Toole?" I see I'm not the only one who noticed the resemblance. And I should state up front that I had no issues with the acting, cinematography, etc.

    My basic problem with this film is that I have a personal hangup about people who I feel are stupidly responsible for the bad things that happen to them. I can't empathize with this kind of character, so when they are the lead of a movie that doesn't bode well for the film as a whole. One small thing would have flipped this entire film for me, though. I kept waiting for Pleasance's character to be revealed to be some kind of evil that was leading the man inexorably to his doom. I don't mean axes and chainsaws evil; just some kind of "evil angel" or devil's agent designed to ensure this man doomed himself. In that case the man's fate would not have been in his control.

    And yes, the kangaroo scene bothered me, although it did not turn what I felt was a good film into a bad film. What bothered me more than the killing was the wounding. Just because the hunters had paid for the piece of paper that let them shoot at them didn't make most of them very good shots. Very few of the kangaroos went down with one bullet to the head or heart.

    Again, I'm not trying to say in any way that you should not feel the way you do about this film; I'm simply saying why I was not able to share that feeling.

    1. I also have that problem with stupid main characters... but it didn't really affect me in this movie. There's just something about this movie I really love. It's disturbing, ugly, and mostly unenjoyable... yet I feel elated at seeing how perfectly constructed and filmed it is. I can definitely see why Wake in Fright would be disliked by many people... it can be quite frustrating.

      Thanks Chip :)