The Blurb Magazine
May 8, 2014
Inspired by true events, this story of a wounded eagle and the bird’s endearing relationship with a world-weary prisoner makes a compelling and beautiful film from Australian writer/director Craig Monahan.
Wron Wron, a low security prison farm 200 km outside of Melbourne, has established a unique program of rehabilitation for the inmates, giving them the responsibility of restoring injured raptors (eagles, falcons, and owls). The project is the brainchild of Senior Officer Matt Perry (Hugo Weaving) who decides to put Viktor Khadem (Don Hany), an Iranian, in charge of building a recovery aviary in the compound. Viktor’s a short-tempered loner with an estranged son, recently released from maximum security after serving 18 years for murder. He’s a fierce looking man who keeps his distance from other prisoners. Matt thinks Viktor would be right for the project as he won’t stand any nonsense from those working with him.
To assist in building the aviary, Viktor selects Paul (Xavier Samuel) a nervous recent arrival on the farm, and – surprisingly – Shane (Mark Winter) to keep watch on this shifty individual. Troublemaker Warren (Anthony Hayes) waits in the wings. A devious, scheming prisoner who wants to be king of the heap, he befriends Shane in an effort to bring Viktor down. Glynis Holmes (Jane Menelaus) of Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary sends Yasmine, a wedge-tailed eagle, over to the new bird recovery centre at the farm. At the beginning of the film, Yasmine is seen flying into a barbed wire fence and seriously injured.
Viktor, now in charge of the Raptor Rehab Program, is thrilled at the prospect of nursing the majestic bird back to health for eagles like Yasmine are sacred hunting birds to Iranians. Paul has to care for an injured barn owl, through which he develops a great affection. However things start to unravel when Shane is suspected to have caused the death of a hawk in the aviaries. Enraged, Viktor risks his friendship with Matt and even being returned to a maximum security prison.
Director Craig Monahan again works with Hugo Weaving in their third collaboration after The Interview (1998) and Peaches (2004). Weaving puts in another compassionate performance as the dedicated case worker with the firm belief that rehabilitating wounded raptors will equally reform inmates during their last months prior to release. Don Hany (Underbelly TV) with his rugged features makes a commanding presence as the brooding Viktor, revealing his gentle side as a bird whisperer in more lyrical moments. Viktor’s meeting with his son at last visiting him in the prison farm is a tightly emotional scene. Xavier Samuel (Adoration) also has a touching moment as the heartbroken Paul has to release his precious barn owl back into the wild. Mark Winter (Balibo) and Anthony Hayes (Burning Man) make suitably unpleasant villains.
Above all, it is the outstanding cinematography which lifts this redemption story of damaged creatures. Oscar winning cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, who shot The Lord of the Rings trilogy opens Healing with striking images of an eagle sweeping through trees, smartly intercut with inmates in a prison van heading to the correction facility. Throughout, the bird photography would do credit to David Attenborough. At the end there’s a terrific shot of Don Hany with Yasmine displaying her two metre wingspan landing on his hand. Unlike many prison stories, the officers aren’t brutal psychopaths; however there is a mouse which may have escaped from The Green Mile.
Healing is a film with a big heart, lyrical yet laced with strong emotions. Music integrates well with the action, and film editor Suresh Ayyar is on his mettle. Credit must go to the bird handler training the actors to smoothly control the magnificent raptors, which Hany and Samuel manage with skill. Fans of Red Dogshould find much to enjoy.