The New York Times
July 5, 2012
Traveling With Dad to Hearts Unknown
‘Last Ride,’ Australian Film Starring Hugo Weaving
The Australian actor Hugo Weaving has the kind of blockbuster credits and genre fame that can overshadow a performer’s range. He’s hitched rides in hits like “The Matrix” cycle (as Agent Smith) and“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy (Elrond, an Elf-lord), in which he dominated his scenes with restrained intensity, slashing eyebrows and a voice that turns whispers into threats. He seems born to play eerie types like Smith who e-nun-ci-ate each syllable as if talking in time to a metronome, fitting vocalizations for a character who’s a machine. There’s more to Mr. Weaving than a spooky voice, though, but you need to look into the quieter corners of the movie world for the fuller picture.
In the Australian film “Last Ride” he plays Kev, a guy with a rock for a heart and a sensitive 10-year old son, Chook (Tom Russell), who from his first trembling moment seems destined to smash that heart to pieces. Early on, you grasp their dynamic when they enter a fast-food place where Kev heads straight for the bathroom, leaving Chook to his own devices. Once in the can Kev cuts his shoulder-length hair short and trims his beard. He stares hard into the mirror, and when he emerges, Chook looks him over. “You look weird,” he says, capping his review with a spew of vomit. It’s a warning sign for a relationship that, as they travel on and off the road, gathers in mystery if not in depth.
Soon afterward, when Kev furtively abandons their car, unscrewing and pocketing a license plate, there’s little doubt that he and Chook are running from something. The director Glendyn Ivin doesn’t initially explain what and why, but it’s easy to piece together the reasons from what’s said and not, as well as from the snippets of news. The screenwriter Mac Gudgeon, working from a novel by Denise Young more expansively titled “The Last Ride,” fills out the story with natural-sounding stop-and-go conversations, traded jokes, informational exchanges and the like rather than conspicuously expository passages. The two main characters talk rather than slog or sift through their feelings. This strengthens the realism, particularly because Kev is fairly laconic, and Chook isn’t especially chatty.
Shooting in wide screen Mr. Ivin tends to switch back and forth between intimate images of Kev and Chook and long shots of them enveloped by the harshly beautiful landscape, suggestively toggling between man and nature. Many of the earlier scenes take place indoors, including an uneasy, nicely handled interlude at the home of an old acquaintance, Maryanne (Anita Hegh), who isn’t initially glad to see the travelers. As the story winds on, Kev and Chook travel deep, then deeper into the outback and across desolate vistas rich in weird beauty, as if on a father-son walkabout. Mr. Ivin doesn’t have a strong narrative line to play with or become distracted by, but he takes off on some lovely detours, whether he’s narrowing in on Chook or going wide to take in the world that waits beyond.
Mr. Weaving turns the film’s silences into brooding and threatening lulls, and he matches Kev’s quieter moments with gestures that are similarly controlled until they’re abruptly not. This restraint draws you closer to Kev — he seems like an enigma worth exploring — even as he then repulses you with his violence, including toward Chook. Kev is mean and often frightening, a volcano on the verge of inundating everything within distance. But what Mr. Weaving and Mr. Ivin never lose sight of is that Kev is Chook’s father. The boy loves Kev and wants to be loved by him, which is crucial to the story’s emotional stakes. Yet the child’s love is easy. What’s tougher and could have been lingered over longer is that, in his hard, hurting way, Kev loves Chook, a truth that neither ever really escapes.
Opens on Friday in Manhattan.
Directed by Glendyn Ivin; written by Mac Gudgeon, based on the novel by Denise Young; director of photography, Greig Fraser; edited by Jack Hutchings; music by Paul Charlier; production design by Jo Ford; costumes by Jodie Fried; produced by Nicholas Cole and Antonia Barnard; released by Music Box Films. At the Cinema Village, 22 East 12th Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Hugo Weaving (Kev), Tom Russell (Chook), Anita Hegh (Maryanne), John Brumpton (Max), Sonya Suares (Dr. Khan) and Kelton Pell (Ranger).