May 10, 2014
After almost 16 years in prison, Viktor Kahdem (Don Hany) has almost given up on life when he is moved to a low-security pre-release prison farm. Here at Won Wron, Case Worker Matt Perry (Hugo Weaving) has established a unique program to rehabilitate broken men through giving them the responsibility for the rehabilitation of injured raptors – beautiful, fearsome proud eagles, falcons and owls. Against all odds, Matt takes on Viktor as his number one test case, introducing him to Yasmine, the majestic wedge tailed eagle with a 2 metre wingspan. If these two can tame each other, anything is possible.
Review by Louise Keller:
Raptors with broken wings and inmates with broken lives are the subject of Craig Monahan’s film about rehabilitation and letting go. It’s a unique drama in which bird and man face parallel challenges as they struggle with their fate and surroundings. But rather than concentrate on the strong central story involving an Iranian prisoner and his emotional journey as he connects to an injured but magnificent wedged tail eagle, Monahan (in his screenplay with Alison Nisselle) has tried to include too many subplots, which detract from the story’s heart.
While the ideas resonate emotionally, propelled by strong performances, the film drags in parts with the construct apparent. However there are many good things, including a fine score by David Hirschfelder and stunning cinematography by Andrew Lesnie in which falcons and eagles are shown in flight, their glorious wingspans in full display above the lazy rural Victorian setting.
It has been 16 years since Hugo Weaving and Tony Martin worked together on Monahan’s award-winning first film The Interview and here, as prison officers at the facility, their role is not to befriend their charges, but to ensure they fulfil their tasks. The same applies to the three prisoners who have been assigned to running the bird rehabilitation project; they are instructed to care for them, but emotionally keep their distance, so once healed, they can be returned to the wild. Everyone needs to be ready and equipped to return from where they come.
As Viktor Khadem, the Iranian prisoner who has shut himself from the world during his 18 years of incarceration, Don Hany is an enigmatic presence in the film’s central role. It is his emotional journey as he connects to Yasmine, the wedge tailed eagle with the 2 meter wing span that is considered to be a sacred hunting bird in Iran, enabling him to address his own personal issues. Secondary plot lines include that of Xavier Samuel’s Paul, who has disassociated himself from his family, and Mark Winter as Shane, the simpleton who is easily led and intimidated.
Weaving is as good as ever – the fact that his Senior Officer Matt Perry has his own personal issues, brings pathos to the role, even though the premise seems somewhat contrived. The scene in which Paul is forced to release the owl with the extraordinary markings and saucer eyes into the wild has great poignancy as do the scenes between Viktor and Yasmine. Most successful is the bitter sweetness that Monahan achieves in depicting the emotional journey of the men who have become attached to the birds and must set them free. It is a pity the film does not soar as freely.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The symbolic metaphor of birds (freedom) and prisoners (no freedom) provides the inner tension in Healing, the simple but descriptively titled new film from Craig Monahan, who made one of my favourite Aussie dramas, The Interview (1998), starring Hugo Weaving and Tony Martin. They must have got on well because they’re together again in Healing, with Weaving’s Matt Perry still needling Martin’s Leo Egan, two prison officers with divergent methods but a shared love of fishing.
The two veteran actors are joined by a varied and wonderful cast, ranging from Don Hany as Viktor the prisoner nearing the end of a long stretch whose natural affinity to the grand wedge tailed eagle, Yasmine, is the dramatic core of the screenplay (by Monahan and Alison Nisselle).
Supple, meandering and sometimes besotted with the beauty of its own creations, the screenplay tries to embrace several inter-related themes, but fumbles the process. The obligatory prison rivalries, while no doubt essential for contextual veracity, distract from the narrative drive, diluting the power of the central story. We should see and feel more about the way Viktor and Yasmine help each other through sharing pain and disappointment. The film’s good intentions are never quite realised to satisfaction.
Andrew Lesnie’s photography is a standout, and David Hirschfelder’s score is like a power booster, sometimes reminiscent of his sweeping score for The Owls of Ga’hoole … with the owls in Healing adding the visual recall.
Justine Clark is a reassuring presence as the social worker, Anthony Hayes is threatening as Warren the bully, while Xavier Samuel and Mark Leonard Winter are memorable as Viktor’s room mates. Jane Menalus is especially impressive as the ‘Zoos’ bird handler overseeing the prison project and recognising Viktor’s natural connection with the wild birds.
A great deal of effort has gone into capturing the birds on screen – without capturing them from their freedom – and the close ups as well as the flying are special treats.