Thursday, June 16, 2011

film review: Australian film Mad Bastards

A 500 word (monthly) film review by Steve Taylor (for Touchstone magazine). Film reviews of the most common contemporary films, each with a theological perspective, (over 60) back to 2005 can be found here.

Mad bastards
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Mad Bastards begins as an Aussie version of Once were Warriors.

Flames flicker as thirteen year-old Bullet (played by Lucas Yeeda), tosses a homemade Molotov Cocktail onto a wooden verandah in outback Australia. Meanwhile Bullet’s absent father, Aboriginal man, (TJ as Dean Daley-Jones), is drinking and fighting his way through Australia’s urban decay.

To resolve the distance, Mad Bastards becomes road movie. Think Convoy, Easy Rider, Smokey and the Bandit. Or closer to Australia, Mad Max.

TJ hitches toward the vast expanse that is the Kimberley (an area of north west Australia twice the size of New Zealand), seeking his son Bullet, whom he abandoned at birth. A quest, both physical and metaphorical, in which the journey provides opportunities for redemption. Which for TJ will include facing the past, including his estranged wife (Nella as Ngaire Pigram), father-in-law (Greg Tait as local police officer Texas) and his indigenous culture.

What Mad Bastards lacks in polish, it gains in reality. Director (Brendan Fletcher) began with oral stories from indigenous people and uses mostly untrained local actors. It makes for some ham moments but in a manner similar to Mike Lee (Secrets and Lies) allows them to improvise, threading their own experiences through the script.

This is a real movie about a culture and a country on a journey. In the week of the movie’s release, one of the actors, Roxanne Williams, was convicted of murdering her partner in their Kimberley home. In the month of release, journalist Nicholas Rothwell wrote of “a crisis of grief … a spiritual collapse so deep it cannot be held back … as an entire culture, acting collectively, destroys itself. (Living hard, dying young in the Kimberley, The Australian)

Kiwi readers might find such social comment difficult to comprehend. Where Maori have a treaty and a common language, indigenous Australians are in fact many nations with no historic legal protection.

The movie skillfully weaves in two further journeys, one therapeutic, another musical. Local cop, Greg Tait, responds to the violence and societal breakdown by starting a local men’s group. Sausages are devoured and no-one talks until Greg leads the way, sharing of his own struggles to parent and protect.

The musical soundtrack is a winner, made for the movie by local band, The Pigram Brothers and Alex Lloyd. Part calypso, part roots, part saltwater love songs, the band appear as actors in the film, traveling through the Kimberley, playing their quirky original music. It offers another thread in the road movie tapestry, upbeat and gorgeous yet at some dissonance with the themes being explored.

Curiously, the answer in Mad Bastards is baptism. TJ is told that while he does not belong to this indigenous community, he is welcome to become part of their lives. The next scene occurs by a river, where an elder stands, tipping water over TJ’s bowed head.

So begins transformation, as hospitality is offered, brokenness is faced and grace received.

Posted by steve at 05:10 PM


  1. thanks Steve sounds like a real film with real people facing real life who then find transformation in the most life giving of things “water” in a dry continent. Looks more like one to see and have on the shelf

    Comment by Geoff — June 16, 2011 @ 7:14 pm

  2. Yes. And I was just talking tonight with a student who has a passion for male spirituality and thought it would make for a good discussion starter in that context also,


    Comment by steve — June 16, 2011 @ 11:02 pm

  3. Hi Steve. Qantas has this on their London/Singapore flight. Loved the music, too.
    Favourite line? – Texas loses a tooth in a fight with TJ & in disgust says “I was gonna have that capped, you prick!”
    cheers, Merv

    Comment by Merv — June 19, 2011 @ 7:04 am

  4. thanks Merv – yep, I brought the album and have loved it. Some great lines and great sounds,


    Comment by steve — June 19, 2011 @ 8:30 am

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