Written by Mac Gudgeon from a novel The Last Ride by Denise Cole, Last Ride is the feature debut of director Glendyn Ivin. He had previously won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2003 for his short film Cracker Bag, which is included on this DVD as an extra. A slow-burning character drama/suspense thriller, Last Ride is for most of its running time, a two-hander, and it’s to the credit of the two lead actors that the film holds the attention as much as it does.
Hugo Weaving’s international films don’t really show his talent to the fullest, but we can hardly begrudge him a payday. He’s one of Australia’s great screen actors at the moment, and Last Ride shows you why. Wildhaired with a scraggly beard, perennially smoking roll-ups, he’s intentionally deglamourised – physically resembling his gay ex-footballer in Little Fish, though emotionally very different to him. Kev isn’t an especially likeable character, being hot-tempered and often violent, but his regard for his son is a redeeming feature. However, his flaws are obvious as young Chook comes to realise.
There have been some impressive performances by children in Australian films lately – I recently reviewed Toby Wallace in Lucky Country. It can’t have been easy for someone of any age to act opposite Weaving at his best, by credit is due to Tom Russell and his director for managing it without too much obvious effort.
The minor roles are well filled, though Anita Hegh as Kev’s estranged wife (and Chook’s mother) Maryanne is saddled with the film’s most clichéd scene: the shag for old times’ sake. (It’s not clear, unless I missed it, why Kev has custody and she doesn’t.) Ivin and DP Greig Fraser, shooting in Scope, come up with some memorable imagery, for example the opening shot of cars at half light. The film has a gritty, dark, low-key look, mainly shot in natural light.
In mood and style, Last Ride reminds us of some of the films Hollywood made in the 1970s: led by shades-of-grey characters, longer on mood and atmosphere than on physical action, and something of a downer. It’s a film of quiet assurance but won’t be for everyone.
Last Ride underperformed at the Australian box office. Hugo Weaving and Greig Fraser were nominated for AFI Awards, as was Tom Russell as Best Young Actor, but none of them won Londoners have a chance to see the film on the big screen at the Barbican’s Australian Film Festival on 20 March 2010, but I’m not aware of any plans for a British commercial release.
Last Ride is released by Madman as a two-disc set, a DVD-9 and a DVD-5, both encoded for Region 4 only.
Shot in Super 35, Last Ride is presented in its theatrical ratio of 2.40:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. Scope seems an odd choice for an intimate drama, but it’s a drama set in some wide-open spaces, namely the landscape of South Australia. As I say above, this is an often darkly-lit film, but shadow detail is excellent, the colours lifelike (if deliberately downplayed) and grain intentional and filmlike.
The soundtrack is available as either Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 (Dolby Surround). The surrounds are mainly used for ambience, and a suitably ambient music score by Paul Charlier. No great issues here. Subtitles for the hard-of-hearing are available and are yellow in colour.
The commentary track features Glendyn Ivin, Greig Fraser and editor Jack Hutchings. It’s longer on the nuts and bolts of filmmaking than on any on-set anecdotes, but you will learn such things as how to film a road movie when your leading actor cannot drive. (Answer: put him in the passenger seat with a dummy steering wheel and reverse the film.) Certainly a very informative track, though probably more so to filmmakers than others.
Also on the first disc are the theatrical trailer (1:50) and two teasers (0:49 and 1:26). The extras on this disc are completed by Madman Propaganda, in this case trailers for Love the Beast, Balibo, My Year Without Sex and Romulus, My Father.
Disc Two’s contents are divided into three sections, the first being “Behind the Scenes”. This begins with “Along for the Ride” (55:06), which is the making-of documentary. This begins in what pre-pre-production with the biggest casting decision, namely that of Tom Russell as Chook. This documentary is quite revealing of quite how much mood swings play a part in filmmaking: elated highs when things go well, followed by acute anxiety that the film will misfire. This takes us past the last day of shooting to the final edit and the film’s first showing.
Also quite revealing is some rehearsal footage (9:12) from June 2008, showing Hugo Weaving and Tom Russell working out the scene where they find the Afghan Museum, ending with the scene from the final film.
Finally there are five web clips, some of which seem to be excerpts from the making-of. They are available separately, with no Play All option: “Casting Chook” (2:31), “Creating Kev” (2:08), “Dust” (2:00), “Salt Lake” (1:43) and “Tom’s Camera” (2:50).
The next section is “Deleted Scenes”, three of them, available with or without a commentary by Glendyn Ivin. These are “Breathing Stones” (1:27), “Morning Walk” (1:43) and “Live Out Here?” (1:57), mainly cut for timing reasons or in the last case a scene which seemed essential but turned out to be superfluous. This section ends with 1:29 of B-roll driving footage. All of these are presented in 2.40:1 and are anamorphically enhanced.
Ivin’s two short films have a section of their own. Cracker Bag (14:25) won the Palme d’Or for Best Short Film at Cannes in 2003. A young girl’s plans for a big firework display on 5 November don’t go to plan. “The Desert” (8:45), shot in 16mm, was something of a preparation for Last Ride, which was combined with the making of a promo video for Magic Dirt. That band’s vocalist, Adalita, plays a woman who digs a hole in the desert, with surprising results. This short has an optional commentary by Ivin.
Finally, “Pungalina – Seven Emu: This is Where We Live” (5:06) is an appeal for support of the endangered flora and fauna of the land around the River Calvert in Northern Australia. Its only connection to Last Ride is the presence of Hugo Weaving as narrator. All of the Disc Two extras except the deleted scenes are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic.
The DVD package also includes two Last Ride postcards and a 48-page booklet. This begins with a conversation between two people not otherwise much featured on these DVDs: Denise Cole, writer of the original novel, and screenwriter Mac Gudgeon, who discuss the differences between novel and film and the process of adaptation, for example adding a final act to the story. The rest of the booklet is made up of Glendyn Ivin’s on-set journal, and a lot of stills.