Critical Review of
Last Train to Freo
Last Train to Freo
A critical review and bibliography
Last Train to Freo (2006) was written by Reg Cribb who has revealed in an interview that he in fact based the screenplay on his real life experiences on the Midland to Fremantle train line where a couple of thugs were terrorising a carriage full of passengers and particularly focusing on one young girl who happened to be a law student. The film is an adaptation of his original stage production, The Return, which premiered as part of the Borderlines series of three plays and later won the 2002 Advertiser Southwark Best of Fringe Award at the Adelaide Fringe Festival (Perth Theatre Company, 2003).
Last Train to Freo was the film directing debut of Jeremy Sims who also directed the stage play. Previously, Sims has been involved primarily in acting with parts in various stage productions such as Cyrano De Bergerac, the 1996 film Idiot Box and a number of television productions, including Aftershocks, for which he won the award for best actor in a lead role for a drama series. He also has his own theatre company, Porkchop Productions, which played a significant role in the funding for Last Train to Freo. Sue Taylor’s Western Australian production company, Taylor Productions also, provided funding for the film. Together with Sims, she assisted in the redrafting of the script to be suitable for a feature film production. Due to its strong Western Australian relevance, the film was the first to be chosen under ScreenWest’s West Coast Visions Initiative, which provides up to $750, 000 investment for low budget films (Taylor Media, 2007).
Playing the ex cons were Tom Budge, as ‘Trev’, and Steve Le Marquand, whose nameless character came to be known as ‘the tall thug’. Marquand has previously had roles in numerous television shows including Police Rescue, Blue Healers and Water Rats, as well as the role of Wozza in the hugely successful Australian film, Two Hands. He has also had experience behind the scenes in the theatre production of He Died With a Falafel in His Hand which he co-wrote, produced, directed and starred in. It has been argued that Marquand’s performance in this role is what drives the film (Hoskin & Sims, 2006). Tom Budge has described Marquand as one of the most intelligent people he has ever met (Bierne, 2006). It appears Budge himself is on the brink of a promising acting career with recent roles in the films Candy and as a sociopathic bushranger in The Proposition. For his debut stage performance in the Lieutenant of Inishmore, he was nominated best supporting actor and it was at that point that he caught the eye of the producers of Last Train to Freo. In the role of the beautiful law student was Gigi Edgeley who is perhaps best known for her work on the television series The Secret Life of Us, but has also developed an international fanbase for her part in Jim Henson’s Farscape and as a result, has secured a part in the film, Alien V’s Alien which is due to be released later this year. Gillian Jones who plays the role of Maureen, has been involved extensively in theatre including a part in the original production of Hair. She has also acted in a number of television dramas such as Wild Side, Cop Shop and Homicide. Last Train to Freo was the feature film debut for Glenn Hazeldine who plays the train passenger, Simon. Like the rest of the cast, he has been a part of numerous television and stage productions, namely, Dead White Males and The Judas Kiss.
The film was shot in a replica of a Transperth train carriage where the majority of the story takes place. The carriage took three weeks to construct and, on screen, it is almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Scenery images were added with projectors to give the illusion of movement. Footage of the actual stations were cut in quite well. However, a noteworthy fault of the film was when a shot of Stirling Bridge was edited in early on in the journey when in fact it is located just before Fremantle Station.
Critics have been in dispute about Last Train to Freo with some heralding it as electrifying (Curruthes, 2007), and others as simply not credible (Pomeranz & Stratton, 2006). There has been particular emphasis on the adaptability of the script from a stage play to a big screen production. It has been critisised for being too theatrical, both in its style of acting and its reliance on the one set with events occurring in real time (Pomeranz & Stratton, 2006). Others, such as Curruthes (2006) claim the film’s transition from stage to screen is outstanding and that the characters carry the plot beautifully with their complex depictions of modern Australian identities.
Jeremy Sims has discussed the structure of the film and its similarity to a play in an interview. In reference to people trying to encourage him to open up the structure by letting the characters off the train and other characters in he said “I basically decided to do exactly the opposite. And not only was I going to keep all the characters on the train, but I wasn’t going to let the camera off the train either” (Hoskin & Sims, 2006). According to Sims, the theme incorporated in Last Train to Freo is “trying to explore what the Australian psyche is, and who we are, and why it has become so shallow in the last twenty years.”
Last Train to Freo is an intense psychological thriller in the claustrophobic setting of a Western Australian train carriage. The story takes place in real time when two ex cons board the midnight train from Midland to Fremantle. They are soon joined by Lisa, a pretty young law student, whom they take an immediate interest in and begin to amuse themselves by taunting her and competing in crude and often funny ways for her attention. Further down the line, two more passengers get on the train; a middle aged woman who makes it her business to stand up for Lisa, and a man who seems determined to keep his head down and ignore the situation building up around him. As the train draws closer to its destination, the threat of violence increases and the tension onboard comes to a shocking and unforeseen climax. Containing an abundance of mentally unstable people, acts of violence and displays of sexual harassment, the story begins with a scenario familiar to anyone who has caught a late night train to Fremantle. However, it soon becomes clear that each character has their own hidden agenda and is concealing their own identity to some degree.
Last Train to Freo presents itself as a psychological thriller in the mind games played by those on board and the constant undercurrent of violence, which threatens to reel its ugly head at every turn. There are two methods employed here to create an atmosphere of suspense and they are the isolation and claustrophobic setting on the train, and the scenario of this seemingly vulnerable young woman stepping onto the train alone with two potentially dangerous criminals. What cannot be ignored are the social problems which inevitably produce these type of characters and, in this respect, the film could be seen as belonging to the category of social realism. This genre has been described as creating a narrative for and dramatising social problems (Moran & Vieth, 2006). The types of problems depicted in such films “depend to a large extent on what kinds of social problems the nation is perceived as having” (Gillard, 2004, pp. 45). The social problem shown predominantly in this film is what Moran and Vieth (2006) identify as ‘troubled guys’, which in this case involves tough working class men from the outer suburbs of Perth who find themselves in meaningless cycles of crime, boredom and aggression. Unfortunately, on this particular train route which runs through a number of very poor suburbs and very rich suburbs, these type of characters are not uncommon and are usually looking for trouble.
Steve Le Marquand’s character is the epitome of this type of guy. He has just been released from prison after serving his fourth sentence. He and his mate, Trev are on their way to Freo just in time for the midnight welfare payment into their bank accounts. Steve has a sense of danger about him, both in his predatory glare and his frequent flashes of anger, which threaten to surface at any given moment. Unlike your run-of-the-mill thug, Steve can also be charming and quite competent in articulating his criticisms of society. On screen, Trev compliments Steve’s angry, precarious character with a mixture of hyperactivity and childish attention seeking behaviour. The contrast between this unpredictably hostile duo and the neatly dressed, attractive law student, Lisa, reflects the great division between the haves and the have-nots prominent in today’s society and Perth in particular. Steve yearns to be a part of upper-class society and to take his share of its associated rewards, including money, respect and fulfilling relationships. His anger stems from the knowledge that he will never be accepted by this group and these things that he longs for are very much out of his reach.
In response to what he perceives as a certain type of prejudice, he uses his keen intellect to question people and their sense of identity. When Lisa steps on to the train, seemingly unaware that the guards are on strike, Steve and Trev begin taunting her and attempting to provoke a response. Lisa is confident and keeps her wits about her. At first she handles the situation admirably. After attempting to ignore them, she begins a guarded interaction with them. Tension builds quickly with the conversation changing almost instantly from flirtatious propositions to subtle threats. Not surprisingly, Lisa is very relieved when the two other passengers board the train at Perth station.
It doesn’t take long for Steve to engage in conversation with these characters either. Maureen attracts his attention first when she stands up for Lisa. Clearly Maureen holds some sort of grudge against men like Steve and Trev. Intrigued by this, Steve offers Maureen a drink of bourbon in exchange for Maureen’s story. This happens at a point when the train had just stopped temporarily and the lights gone out. Hers is a tragic tale of a life half lived. She entered into marriage too young and since then her life has been filled with problems associated with lower socio economic status, such as unemployment, alcoholism and domestic abuse. It is established that she has just left her husband after 37 years of marriage and now she doesn’t really know who she is or where she is going. After hearing Maureen’s story, Steve shows his gentlemanly side by offering her a hanky and then saying “Maureen, for no cost at all, I am offering you the chance to make your life better. Give me your address, go and have a drink with Trev here and I’ll nip round to your place and your husband will be no more.” At this point, Maureen appears to be contemplating the possibility, but then the lights come on, the train begins to move again, and she politely declines Steve’s offer. Of course, Steve was well aware that Maureen would refuse his offer, but it is in his nature to force people to look at themselves.
The plot thickens when he turns to Simon and discovers that he has been copying down their conversations word for word the entire time. Steve is insulted that he has been referred to as ‘the tall thug’ and demands to know what the purpose of Simon’s writing is. Supposedly, Simon is writing a story about people from a lower socio economic background and using Steve and Trev as research material. From this point on, the story takes a climactic turn. It becomes clear to Steve that Simon is not being entirely truthful with him and he responds violently with the intention of forcing truths to surface. It is finally revealed that Lisa and Simon are in fact romantically involved and the train ride was a setup so Simon could witness Lisa being harassed by people like Steve and Trev as research for his book. It infuriates Steve that he has been mislead in this way by Simon and especially Lisa.
The balance of power makes an interesting shift when Simon pulls out a gun and points it at Steve. What is even more confronting is when Simon establishes the connection between the pair. It turns out that Simon is the brother of the man who Steve was put in prison for stabbing and causing to suffer brain damage. Suddenly, Steve is on the other end of the interrogative spotlight. His original story that this other man was trying to pursue his girlfriend and initiated the fight that night doesn’t add up. Firstly, Simon claims his brother was gay and secondly, that he wouldn’t hurt a fly. It is now Simon who is demanding that Steve confront truths and offer answers. An even bigger revelation is made when Steve confirms that the attack on Simon’s brother was not an act of hate, but a crime of passion. Steve had been in a relationship with Simon’s brother for a year and no longer wanted it to be a secret. When Simon’s brother had refused to acknowledge their relationship publicly, and even worse, found the prospect of doing so amusing, Steve had gone into a fit of rage. This is not the truth Simon had bargained for as he is clearly ashamed of his brother’s sexual orientation. As Steve points out, had he stood up in court and admitted his brother was gay, then Steve would still be in prison.
The film ends with each character going their own separate ways. The train journey, while forcing these characters together, has also torn them apart. With hidden agendas and secrets revealed, the characters are thrown into inner turmoil and must revaluate themselves and their identities. Lisa goes home alone feeling exploited by Simon, her sense of strength and independence shattered. Trev leaves the scene feeling betrayed that Steve had lied to him and questioning his own role in Steve’s life. Maureen leaves alone just as she had come. The question of whether she will return to her abusive husband or make a fresh start on her own is left unanswered. The only character who appears unshaken by the events of the night surprisingly is Steve himself. He leaves the station with unmistakable direction. He’s going to the pub and the grin on his face in the last few moments of the film tells us that he will touch people’s lives there just as he did in the train.
What is most unusual about the situation from the start, is why any young girl travelling alone at that time of night would board a train and sit right in the middle of two suspicious looking characters. Even when this is explained later on in the film, the plausibility of the situation is ludicrous. The other fault in the film which was not explained satisfactorily in my eyes, is the willingness of Lisa to go along with such a ridiculous plan in the first place. Supposedly she was assisting Simon with research for his book featuring people like Steve and Trev, yet the film does not adequately address why she was so willing to be put in a potentially dangerous situation. The boundaries of believability are stretched once more when it is revealed that Simon’s brother was Steve’s lover and they were both on the train purely by coincidence, and Simon just happened to be carrying a gun. It is reasonable to assume that they met on the train by coincidence, given that Perth is such a small city and in reality, there is a mere two degrees of separation between most people. However, the fact Simon was carrying a gun when he did not anticipate Steve to be on the train does not make sense. This factor has directed me to the possibility that perhaps Simon did know Steve would be on the train that night and desired to witness a dangerous situation involving someone he loved as a form of closure. Whatever the case, the actors created a tension filled train ride never to be forgotten, regardless of obvious plot faults. Steve Le Marquarand in particularly was so believable in his role as ‘the tall thug’ that even in silence it was difficult to look away from his cold predatory glare.
The critics frequently referred to the claustrophobic setting in their reviews of the film, some applauding it as accentuating the tension on board and others criticising it for not evolving from its theatrical origins. I am more inclined to agree with the former opinion. Had the story been expanded to include scenes outside the train as many critics have called for, then perhaps the tension and intimacy between the five characters would have been lost. Overall this psychological thriller works well in that it plays on an everyday situation, in this case, five strangers on a train. The scenario arising from these interactions between people from two different sides of the tracks explores a number of issues dealing with contemporary social problems and their far reaching consequences on society.
Beirne, M, (2006). ‘Tom Budge Interview: Last Train to Freo’, Your Movies, www.yourmovies.com.au/news/?action=news&i=91972. [2 April 2007].
Curruthes, A. ‘Last Train to Freo’, In Film Australia, http://www.lasttraintofreo.com/. [2 April 2007].
Gillard, G. Ten Types of Australian Film, Murdoch University, Perth, 2007.
Hoskin, D., & Sims, J. (2006) Telling mythical tales: A conversation with Jeremy Sims about Last Train to Freo. Metro (Melbourne, Vic: 1974). 150. pp 22-27.
Moran, A., & Vieth, E. Film in Australia: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 2006.
Perth Theatre Company, (2001) ‘Reg Cribb’, www.perththeatre.com.au/artist.asp?id=95. [3 April 2007].
Pomeranz, M., & Stratton, D. ‘Last Train to Freo’, At The Movies, www.abc.net.au/tthemovies/txt/s1743495.htm. [3 April 2007].