PRISON films usually are served up with a side of violence and jailbreaks, but new Australian film Healing, starring Hugo Weaving and Don Hany, is very much the opposite.
It’s a softer take on life behind bars. In fact, there aren’t even any – instead of barbed wire fences and chained guard dogs, Healing is set in a low-security prison farm, called Won Wron Correctional Centre.
It’s a place that has its nasty criminals and shifty prisoner politics, but it also sports outback cabins, bird rehabilitation centres, and more caring officers than we’re used to. Inspired by a true story, it stars Don Hany (inset picture), well known for TV work in East West 101 and Offspring, as Viktor Khadem, an Iranian man on the tail-end of an 18-year prison sentence who’s sent to Won Wron to finish out his time.
Hany has a quiet, but grounding presence and the gravitas to believably play this man quite a few years older than him. Viktor is in prison for murder and brings with him a heavy reputation.
He’s assigned to senior officer Matt Perry, played by Hugo Weaving, who decides to put him in charge of a new bird rehabilitation project. This includes nursing an injured wedge-tailed eagle named Yasmin back to health.
The project is one of a number of initiatives at places like Won Wron, designed to give inmates responsibility and prepare them for life in the real world.
While Hany and Weaving are excellent in the lead roles, it’s the birds who really steal the show.
Bird handler and raptor specialist Andrew Payne, as well as writer/director Craig Monahan, have done a fantastic job with these amazing creatures, both in their performance and the stunning visuals. One of the barn owls wins your heart almost immediately, while watching a wedge-tailed eagle hunt in the opening is quite spectacular.
The film also boasts some excellent support turns.
Xavier Samuel and Mark Winter as Viktor’s fellow inmates have their own emotional story to tell, while Jane Menelaus is wonderful as the dry-humoured Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary worker Glynis, and Tony Martin gets laughs as another officer.
Where Healing suffers is from its length. At 119 minutes, it’s much too long, and your attention is tested. It is a thoughtful film, but it would have benefited from being much tighter, which would have also made its messages feel a little less obvious.
As the title suggests, the film is about healing and works on various levels – with the birds, the prisoners, and even the officers.
There’s a strong father-son storyline and while Healing touches on religion and culture, it doesn’t ever resort to stereotypes, instead just adding depth to Viktor and why he relates so well to the birds.
With some gorgeous visuals of the birds and solid performances, particularly from Hany, Healing is an absorbing story that’s sometimes hindered by its long and ponderous length.
Healing (M) is in Australian cinemas now.