Thursday, May 19, 2011

New Release Review: Mad Bastards (Brendan Fletcher, 2011)

Mad Bastards is the debut feature from writer/director Brendan Fletcher, a man who is both successful in setting a compelling drama in the not-often seen Kimberley region of Australia and making an audience aware of the rich culture that exists there. While this confronting and powerful tale often reveals a lack of confidence and skill to effectively drive its narrative and sustain its audience's interest, it does manage to impressively study three generations of life in the harsh Australian outback, and balance strong themes of community, wayward youth, masculine despair and redemption, domestic violence and alcoholism. Mad Bastards was an Official Selection at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

TJ (Dean Daley-Jones) has never seen his son. He is a troubled man with an attitude, a violent streak and a siding for the drink. He is a 'Mad Bastard', raised in a culture of domestic violence and alcoholism from which he has never recovered. Seeking to right the wrongs that have plagued his life, he hopes to heal the wounds he has caused to his son, Bullet (Lucas Yeeda), and become the father figure that the now misguided boy desperately needs. It is evident that Bullet has grown up under similar circumstances and TJ may be too late.

The film opens with Bullet throwing a Molotov cocktail at a house and being arrested by his grandfather, the local police chief. Instead of finding himself in a juvenile prison, he is escorted to a camp outside town where he spends a couple of weeks with fellow juvenile offenders being disciplined by a local elder, who takes them out into the wild where they hunt and learn how to behave. TJ, desperate to see his son, sets out from his Perth residence to cover the 2000 kilometres to a small town in the Kimberley region, meeting a host of colourful individuals along the way and discovering a new life infused with music, community and peace. Now it all sounds like quite a moving tale, but its predominantly a pretty depressing one. Despite the reliance on the close-up to draw us into these characters, we often find ourself distanced and a little put off by their personalities. While we eventually come to care for these characters, accepting that it takes time to resolve past conflicts, it is a bit of an ordeal watching their story unfold.

Mad Bastards features a great soundtrack from Alex Lloyd and the Pigram Brothers (who also appear in the film) which the film really relies on. With nearly every sequence accompanied by music, it hides the lack of confidence in the simple narrative sustaining the running time, and gives us a break from the intensity. There are lots of moments featuring TJ sitting in a vehicle, watching the landscape fly by and contemplating both his past, and what he will say to his son when he first meets him. We don't really learn much from these moments, but the catchy score effectively accompanies the images, and we choose not to mind. With the film shot on location, it is one of the best representations of Indigenous culture I have seen. Living closer to the city, TJ has never really known communities such as the one where his son lives. Everyone knows everyone else and they live day-to-day on hardships; relying on survival instincts and hunting, and communal gatherings, such as the ones presented throughout the film, to cling to a humanity. The film is so realistic, especially early on, that it is hardly enjoyable. But once TJ begins his quest, the intensity of the violence and the profanities are not so apparent and we start to relax.

In the second half there are a few moments when the drama seems a little staged. Having been introduced to a friendly elder in a nearby town, he bumps into him again and befriends him for the rest of his journey. He actually lives in the same town as Bullet, and knows everyone. I kept thinking, "who is this guy, and why was he destined to be TJ's companion?" Also, the relationship with Bullet's mother was aggravatingly predictable and melodramatic at times. Fletcher, who utilises non-actors in each of the roles, draws honest and moving performances from almost the entire cast, and it is clear in the interviews at the conclusion, that they have shaped their performances from personal experiences. Though its not shot in a particularly innovative way, the often beautiful captures of the surrounding environment, the unglamorous locations and the close-ups of these intriguing individuals, give it a lift. Mad Bastards has not done well at the Box Office, which is a shame because it really deserves to be seen by more people. If it is still playing at a cinema near you, it is well worth checking out.

My Rating: 3 Stars (C)


  1. I've heard some good things about this one. Is it just me, or is Australia making some really choice films at the moment? And everyone's complaining about how depressing they all are. Depressing is good!

    Nice review, I'll check this out if I get the chance!

  2. I think there have been a few quality Australian films released this year. I enjoyed Griff the Invisible and Mad Bastards, and I believe that Snowtown is excellent too. Though, I believe it is an ordeal to get through, so it may not be so enjoyable. Mad Bastards did poorly at my cinema, and I caught the very last session we had scheduled. I'm glad I saw it, and thought it was disappointing that few people did. If you see it playing, you should check it out. Or at least on DVD in the future! :-)