June 28, 2012
The dynamic between a father and his young son takes an especially dark turn in “Last Ride,” a largely atmospheric picture that carries itself confidently through some frightening displays of behavior. Mournful, with a central mystery more substantial than expected, the feature creates a compelling sit out of the barest of filmmaking elements, trusting the natural beauty of Australia to settle the soul while leads Hugo Weaving and Tom Russell spend the run time working to disturb with their unpredictable performances, capturing an uneasy and abusive familial relationship with a natural chemistry, guided patiently by director Glendyn Ivin.
Crossing Australia on foot, marching to an unknown destination, Kev (Hugo Weaving) and his young son Chook (Tom Russell) are looking to keep a low profile. Wanted by the police for committing a crime of unknown severity, Kev uses his natural charms and brute force to find shelter for his child, with the boy struggling to understand his father’s volcanic temper and occasional disregard for parental duties. As the days pass, the pair finds themselves stealing to survive, with Kev teaching Chook the ways of endurance in the punishing bush, preparing him for the inevitable. Wandering around the grueling terrain on the hunt for sanctuary, Kev and Chook are forced to reassess their relationship and history, with the child coming to appreciate his father in a completely new light as their luck slowly runs out.
Adapted by Mac Gudgeon from the novel by Denise Young, “Last Ride” is a deliberate picture, prone to extended sequences of travel, observing Kev and Chook cross Australia for reasons not immediately understood. The opening act establishes a violent incident that left a man dead, while introducing Kev as a hostile man with an innate recklessness, yet the story isn’t clear at first glance, requiring a special patience with Ivin as he gradually colors in the details surrounding the murder and its connection to the lead characters. Despite a lack of initial awareness, “Last Ride” conjures a chewy feel for intimidation, studying Kev as he worms his way back into the arms of his ex (a nice turn from Anita Hegh), a woman powerless to resist her former abuser, and takes to the bars at night, waiting for any opportunity to pick a fight. Aggression is the norm for the biker, lending his presence in the film an ideal volatility. While Kev cares for his son, the viewer is never sure if the brute is out to protect the boy or preparing to abandon him in the middle of a most dangerous land.
Acting as a supporting character, the Australian vistas are captivating, introducing further threat and askew serenity into an already uneasy feature, generating a beauty about the film while it details raw emotions and feral acts of survival. The atmosphere of “Last Ride” is skillfully rendered by Ivin, who weaves a sense of history to the trail as Kev shares his childhood memories of their stops, with flashes of fathering managing to shine through a seemingly devious man. It’s a gorgeous movie, a fact highlighted in a brief excursion through salt flats, reinforcing the isolation of the land and the codependency of the characters, who, in this area, literally have no one but each other to rely on. It’s a troubling scene of splintered intimacy, yet carries an extraordinary scale.
With much of the film devoted to the interaction between Kev and Chook, “Last Ride” turns to Weaving and Russell for much of its dramatic insight. The performances are marvelous, expressing an enormous reservoir of suspicion and grief without bleeding into melodrama, preferring to expose naked emotion through looks instead of fidgety gestures. It’s easy to understand the men and their concerns, even with a story that takes its time arriving at revelations and conclusions. The pair holds “Last Ride” together with a questioning, irritable dynamic, forcing the audience to pay attention to the minutiae of their conduct, which often communicates more about the situation than simple storytelling mechanics.