New Jersey Newsroom
July 6, 2012
The harsh landscape of the outback in South Australia — eerie and frightening in its barrenness — reflects the character of Kev in Glendyn Ivin’s brooding and brutal Australian thriller “Last Ride,” as well as the bare-bones life he lives with his son. The film opens with a boy trying to shoot something in a car junkyard, certainly an image of deprivation, and then a man cutting his hair off in a public bathroom. As the camera moves abruptly from extreme close-up to long shot, we feel how small people are in this hard land.
A rough petty criminal, Kev is on the run with the ten-year-old Chook, moving with increasing desperation from bus to stolen cars to isolated camps. In his first stop at the home of an ex-girlfriend, Maryanne, we learn that Kev’s been in prison, and that he can be alternately charming and vicious. We don’t know why he’s running, but when he watches a television news program in a bar, we realize he’s killed someone. First time director Ivin keeps the tension high, leaking bits of information as the father and son hurtle across the countryside, moving farther into the wilderness, both physically and spiritually.
An acclaimed stage and screen actor in Australia, Hugo Weaving delivers an extraordinary performance, imbuing Kev with enough humanity that we can empathize with him despite his meanness and violence. He’s an awful guy, but he cares about his son in the only way he can. Limited by his own childhood, Kev doesn’t have the resources to give Chook the affection and attention a child needs. First-time actor Tom Russell is natural and innately sympathetic as Chook, a boy alternately fearful and idolizing of his father. He wants his father’s love, but he has enough of his father’s hardness that he’s not willing to go past a certain point.
The screenplay by Mac Gudgeon is based on the novel “The Last Ride” by Denise Young and focuses entirely on the relationship between the father and son. Either one or the other is on screen through almost the entire 90-minute film, and usually they are there together. At one point, they come to a house that is an Afghan museum of sorts, which has something to do with Kev’s ancestry. He leaves Chook alone, going out to buy food, and doesn’t return for many hours. Scared and alone, the boy plays with the objects in the collection until he falls asleep on the floor. He awakens to find a young Indian doctor there, but when Kev returns, he knocks her about and steals her car. Kev is the sort who can’t put his son’s welfare ahead of his own, not because he doesn’t love him, but because he doesn’t have the capacity.
Many of the images in the film are unforgettable, especially the scene where Chook walks across a vast salt lake after his father has dumped him out of the car. The small boy trudging across this unearthly space, totally alone, is haunting, and perfectly sets up the end of the film. “Last Ride” isn’t easy to watch, but you won’t forget it.