James van Maanen
July 5, 2012
Parenting can be a bummer, but having a dad like the character played by Hugo Weaving in the not-so-new (it debuted at TIFF in 2009) Australian movie LAST RIDE, is very nearly no fun at all. The film itself is not a lot of fun, either — but it is a good one, well worth seeing. The child is question is a young lad who seems bright and capable and might very well make something of himself — if nature, together with the crummy nurturing he’s had up to now, doesn’t get the better of him.
As directed by Glendyn Ivin — shown at left, whose first full-length film this is — with a screen-play adapted by Mac Gudgeon from the novel by Denise Young, the movie takes the form of a journey by the boy and his dad, across the outback of Australia, as they stay a step or two ahead of the law. Just what dad has done to incur being chased becomes clear over time, and what slowly transpires is a very difficult, sad and untimely coming-of-age tale about a boy who should never have to handle what is thrust upon him here.
As well played by Weaving, above, one of Australia’s finest actors, and the excellent young newcomer Tom Russell (below, who made this movie prior The Tree, which opened here one year ago), these two performances command our attention and at least a little of our good will, especially where young Russell’s character is concerned.
Kev (Weaving) and Chook (Russell) encounter various folk, tell jokes (two out of three are pretty funny) and have some sweet moments along the way — which becomes all the sadder as we get a better understanding of how dark and problematic is the character of Kev. Times grow rougher as the journey lengthens: “What are we gonna eat?” asks Chook. “We could catch a dingo,” Dad answers. “Can you eat a dog?” the kid wonders.
One of the pleasures of the film lies in its glorious locations, beautifully photographed by Greig Fraser (Bright Star, Snow White and the Huntsman). There’s an amazing scene, above, shot on what looks like a vast lake that has but one inch of water covering it.
As times grow bad, Dad gets worse, and so, unfortunately does Chook. There’s one scene that suggests that the child could easily grow into the man, and the movie does not try to sugar-coat any of this. Though we’ve seen countless films about father-and-son bonds so strong that they that can’t help but produce a happy ending, Last Ride is having little of this.
The film goes from dark to darker, never losing believability, taking us and Chook to places and actions no child should have to witness or engage. And if there is no light at tunnel’s end, there is at least one ray of hope in the memory of something useful dad has taught.
Last Ride — 100 minutes, released through Music Box Films and not to be confused with the movie of almost the same title The Last Ride), which showed up briefly a week or two back — opens this Friday, July 6, in New York City at the Cinema Village, while simultaneously becoming available via VOD.