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).