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Nitram (Justin Kurzel, 2021) wr. Shaun Grant; Caleb Landry Jones, Judy Davis, Essie Davis, Anthony LaPaglia, Sean Keenan; Martin Bryant biopic; screened Cannes; Jones won best actor
... moves inexorably towards drama, a process that Kurzel’s eviscerating film imagines as a hopeless crush of inevitability, of circumstances closing in, awful coincidences occurring and the options for avoiding the direst possible outcome narrowing to zero. And perhaps most troublingly, as this winnowing-away of opportunity happens, for Nitram, there seems to be a terrible sense of becoming. When he reaches into his duffel bag of guns, looking up from his fruit cup in a cafeteria that will in moments become the site of worst mass shooting in Australian history, his eyes, for the first time, are clear. Variety.
The last-minute recasting of Nitram as a gun-control movie gives it a semblance of reason for being; otherwise, it is pointless and borderline amoral. There is no rule against making a movie about a mass murderer, and there are films—like Gus Van Sant's Elephant, based on Columbine—that have viewed real-life mass shootings through a disturbing artistic lens. But Kurzel demonstrates no insight into Bryant or even any particular perspective that I could discern. The film is basically an excuse for Caleb Landry Jones, who plays Nitram, to explore different inflections of hangdog weirdness, as Nitram vexes his parents (Judy Davis plays his strict and exasperated mother, Anthony LaPaglia his somewhat warmer father), tries to befriend a surfer (Sean Keenan), and, while going door to door seeking to mow people's lawns, meets an heiress (Essie Davis) with plenty of money and a lot of pets. He soon becomes Joe Gillis to her Norma Desmond.
Exactly how any of this is supposed to shed light on Bryant's state of mind, Australia's gun laws, or on the senseless deaths of 35 people is unclear. The film has no momentum to speak of, and the palette is grimly unvaried. Kurzel also directed a film called The Snowtown Murders, based on a real-life string of killings in Australia in the 1990s. With that and Nitram, he has carved out a singularly off-putting niche. Roger Ebert.
Garry Gillard | New: 20 July, 2021 | Now: 20 July, 2021