Director Craig Monahan
Staring Hugo Weaving, Don Hany, Xavier Samuel
Inspired by an actual program running between Corrections Victoria and the Healesville Sanctuary (operated by Zoos Victoria), Healing looks at the rehabilitation and integration of prisoners back into the world through their interaction with injured wildlife.
Having been imprisoned for 18 years, Viktor Khadem (Don Hany) is soon eligible for parole and is moved to a minimum security work farm to reacclimatise to society. When an injured eagle is discovered by the work crew, a new opportunity arises for Viktor as he is put in charge of a fledgling bird rehabilitation program. Soon the bond he forms with the bird starts to help him reconnect with his fellow inmates as well as his old life to such a degree that he may be able to overcome the decades of institutionalisation.
This treads well worn ground. The bird as an obvious metaphor for freedom, the institutionalised individual struggling to reacclimatise, tension with a prison fixer while trying to remain on the straight and narrow, the estranged family, the experienced inmate taking the fresh fish under his wing – it’s all here and more. Perhaps director Craig Monahan (The Interview) has packed too much into this film that makes it seem like a clichéd prison yard story. To be fair, these are such commonplace tropes that the audience may well have missed them in their absence. However, it is the presentation that makes all the difference. Instead of being predictable and mawkish, Healing comes across as solid Australian drama, mostly due to the laconic performances of its actors.
Don Hany (Serangoon Road) as Viktor Khadem is definitely the highlight here. Hany underplays the role of a man that has been imprisoned for 18 years in a marvellously convincing way. For the first half of the film he rarely makes eye contact with any of the wardens, actively avoiding any pretence of a challenge to their authority. When he does make eye contact with another inmate, it is either a threat or a dominance display, with his anger seething below the surface. Hugo Weaving as Matt Perry acts as a the perfect foil for Han, and their interaction really buoys the rest of the movie onward. Once again Weaving presents a man of few words, although one of obvious deep thought and positively verbose in comparison to Hany. As Healing progresses they grow a grudging respect for each other that appears to genuinely come from the actors.
Saved from schmaltz by strong acting, deliberate pacing, and some excellent cinematography (thanks to LOTR Oscar winner Andrew Lesnie) Healing gives us some solid drama. It may be full of overworked themes of redemption, but the result is a genuinely uplifting movie.
To read our interview with lead actor Matt Hany, head here. Writer and director Craig Monahan will be on hand for a special Q & A screening this Thursday, May 8, at Luna Leederville. Book tickets at lunapalace.com.au.