By Jack Dignan
For some, the 26th of January is a day of nationalistic pride. It’s a day in which you can cook sausages, throw some thongs and grab a beer down by the beach. But, in reality, it’s a sad day. It’s a day built from racism, murder and invasion, disguised as colonization and celebrated as a public holiday. Double pay is about the only good thing to come out of it. Well, that and also the free sausages. Over the years, the holiday has stirred controversy and upset, fuelled with racism and settled by justice, yet it remains. For every Australian, the day means something different, and yet, we still celebrate it. It continues year after year. But why?
The infamous holiday may be politically charged, and the film is too to a certain extent, but Australia Day (the movie now, not the holiday) isn’t necessarily about what one would expect. It doesn’t try giving justification to the holiday, nor does it disown it. It uses it as a thematic link to the film’s interoperation of modern Australia. The film could take place on any day of the year and remain the same, but why bother? It’s a racially charged, deeply stirring movie that webs together a series of narratives into a controversial depiction of the modern world. The good, the bad and the ugly are all present. This is Australia at its darkest, all without killer spiders and serial killers wandering through the desert.
A lot of crosscutting narratives do their best to connect the stories. They feel separated most of the time, but then come together in the third act for a mind-blowing reunion and intense reveal. Australia Day doesn’t. There are small fractions that connect here and there, in particular one more emotionally moving moment in the film’s final moments, but for the most part, these narratives remain their own entities, and it works. It aids the film in telling its story. Everything comes together to paint a bigger picture. And each narrative is just as compelling as the other.
There’s a story of human trafficking and sex slavery, a hit and run, and a kidnapping scenario. Talents both new and old take centre stage in this relentlessly truthful painting of racial tension that’s deep in characterization and unexpected all the way through. The plot bounces from scene to scene, and often the transitions can be jarring or over-plotted, but it’s jam packed with rich story that’s impactful in every sense of the word. A key message of hope within future generations is hammered in well, ending on an emotional finale that smoothens out the story and ties all loose ends together. Well, most of them anyway.
A kidnapping scenario does prove problematic after a while. It starts out gripping, violent and intense, but as the plot moves along, and twists unfold, the narrative becomes tedious. Characters make decisions that sort of come out of nowhere and occasionally feel misplaced. Emotional arcs are skipped straight to the conclusion, but the same goes for each of the narratives, really. The hit and run story fails to earn its ending. It reaches out to grab the audience, swirled up with wonderful music queues, but the story doesn’t work as well as it should. Characters cheat their way to victory. The conclusion is all too easy to believe.
Australia Day is a film full of social awareness. It’s a commentary on everybody who lives here, and the way our nationality is perceived, but in raising its many problems with our country, it forgets to hint at a solution. We get it, Australians have done some bad things, but what are you trying to say? Stephen M. Irwin’s screenplay is excellent, but lacks answers to its problems. He struggles to do more than just point out the obvious and showcase it through a brutal story. It works in a lot of regards, but needs a bit more bite. Still, the talent behind it is extraordinary, and they give it their all.
Kriv Sanders directs gracefully. The cinematography is elegant and beautiful. And Bryan Brown steals the show with a hard hitting performance. There’s so much to take away from this haunting Aussie movie, even with its narrative issues and occasionally stale performance from supporting cast members. But overall, once the credits rolled, the film has transcended into something well worth a watch, and one I feel all Australians need to check out.
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