May 7, 2014
The Bottom Line: Thoroughly committed performances from the actors and their avian co-stars give this gentle prison drama wings.
Australian director Craig Monahan’s Healing may be the gentlest prison drama ever made. That’s not to say it lacks power; rather, the narrative unfurls as organically and precisely as the wings of the majestic but damaged birds that the film’s minimum-security inmates are charged with caring for.
Weaving is terrific as Matt Perry, a senior case worker at a prerelease prison farm in rural Victoria, where he heads up a rehabilitation program involving the care of injured eagles, falcons and other raptors. But the film belongs to Don Hany, a veteran of Australian television starring in his first major film.
As Viktor Khadem, an Iranian-Australian inmate nearing the end of a 16-year stretch for murder, Hany brings an impressive mix of toughness and wounded fragility. Charged with caring for a mighty wedged-tailed eagle with a broken wing, Viktor finds a soul mate — a fellow creature that is strong but vulnerable — and together they help each other prepare for a return to the outside world.
Inspired by a real-life raptor rehabilitation program run by Victoria’s Healesville Sanctuary in partnership with the state’s prison system, Monahan and co-writer Allison Nisselle have fleshed out their film with a cast of inmates who are each broken in their own way. Hostilities flare between Viktor’s protege, Paul (Xavier Samuel, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse’s), and a nasty troublemaker named Warren (Animal Kingdom’s Anthony Hayes), while Paul’s bunkmate Shane (Mark Leonard Winter), a vaguely drawn character, hovers on the fringes.
A simmering menace permeates the script but the threatened violence never eventuates. Instead, the focus is on uplift, with David Hirschfelder (Australia) providing a spirited symphonic score and Oscar-winning Australian cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) beautifully tracking the flight paths of the magnificent birds of prey.
Production company: Pointblank Pictures
Cast: Hugo Weaving, Don Hany, Xavier Samuel, Mark Leonard Winter, Jane Menelaus
Director: Craig Monahan
Screenwriters: Craig Monahan, Alison Nisselle
Executive producer: Richard S. Guardian
Producers: Tait Brady, Craig Monahan
Director of photography: Andrew Lesnie
Production designer: Les Binns
Costume designer: Jeanne Cameron
Music: David Hirschfelder
Editor: Suresh Ayyar
Sales: Lightning Entertainment
No MPAA rating, 119 minutes