Fusing the cinematic DNA of The Proposition and The Great Santini, Glendyn Ivin’s Last Ride—not to be confused with this year’s Hank Williams biopic, The Last Ride—follows fugitive ex-con Kev (Hugo Weaving) and his tousled-haired ten-year-old son from Australian civilization into the bush and beyond. Whether Kev is fleeing a simple altercation or something worse takes a while to suss out. But it’s clear he got into it with a longtime friend who’s also served as the boy’s surrogate father—doubly uprooting a child who’s never had more than fleeting stability to begin with.
Kev loves the boy, but the violence of his own upbringing is never far beneath the surface, and he seems unable to distinguish the line between rambunctious play and outright abuse. As they’re out camping one day, the man throws his son, who can’t swim, into a nearby pond, and laughs as he flails and screams. It’s a tribute to the complexity of Weaving’s performance that the moment is both resonant and irreducible, a thorny fusion of paternalistic sadism and good-natured push-out-of-the-nest encouragement; even he doesn’t seem to know which. Ivin pilots the pair through a series of bleakly beautiful landscapes, including the mirrorlike expanse of inch-deep Lake Gairdner. The ending flirts with glib nihilism, but the movie’s brutality is laced with hope: When things are this bad, how can they get worse?