Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Stephen Vidler
Stars: Laurence Bruels, Linda Cropper, Simon Lyndon, Jessica Napier, Rebecca Smart, Chris Haywood, Essie Davis, Justine Clark, Jeannette Cronin, David Field
Running Time: 90 minutes
Adapted from the stage play by Nick Enright (Lorenzo’s Oil, etc), Black Rock is a punchy, powerful and hard hitting Australian drama examining the devastating impact a brutal rape and shocking murder has on a small community. Black Rock is a provocative and topical film that succinctly evokes every parent’s worst nightmare, but it also has a gritty urgency that primarily addresses itself to adolescent audiences, who will identify with some of the characters. This is gut wrenching stuff that contains some raw emotions and explores complex questions of masculinity and male bonding, and examines that inviolate and deeply ingrained, uniquely Australian concept of mate ship.
At the centre of this compelling drama is the powerful, intelligent and emotionally complex performance from exciting newcomer Laurence Breuls, who plays 17 year old Jared Kirby, a troubled teenager consumed by self-loathing and guilt after he witnesses a brutal rape which he feels powerless to stop. Jared lives with his mother Diane (stage veteran Linda Cropper), but theirs is a hostile and angry relationship as he blames her shrewish and demanding attitude for driving away his father. Jared is a typical adolescent who is uncertain of what he wants from life and desperately needs some guidance or someone to help him make his way through the confusion and choices. His only real friend is Ricko (Simon Lyndon), a local surfing legend with a reputation for being a trouble-maker.
When Ricko returns home following a brief spell in prison, Jared decides to throw a party at the local surf club. The mix of alcohol, adolescent libidos and obvious lack of parental supervision is a potent one and a recipe for disaster. During the party, Jared wanders off to be alone, but his silent contemplation is shattered when he witnesses the brutal gang rape of a local girl by a group of his own class mates. Jared watches paralysed and unable to help, and when the victim is later found murdered, his confused emotions give way to anger, which is mainly directed at his seemingly unsympathetic and otherwise pre-occupied mother. Without the necessary guidance Jared finds himself inevitably torn between his responsibilities and the ethos of never dobbing in a mate, and caught up in a moral dilemma for which there are no easy or straightforward answers. At the same time, Diane is struggling to come to terms with the fact that she has breast cancer, and is unable to discuss her fears and apprehensions with Jared. To her horror, Diane also comes to suspect that Jared was somehow involved in the rape, which puts further strain on their already tense relationship.
The incendiary emotional gulf and lack of communication between Jared and Diane has further drastic ramifications, as the town itself slowly begins to get caught up in the aftermath of the shocking crime. There is also a metaphorical cancer eating away at this small coastal town, as the residents bitterly turn upon each other in their frenzied desire to apportion blame for the savage attack, and the once tight-knit community is gripped by a disturbing undercurrent of seething hatred and potentially explosive violence.
Actor turned director Stephen Vidler directs the controversial material with assurance and he certainly doesn’t flinch away from its confronting nature or its difficult themes. The tough and harrowing rape sequence is reminiscent of the scene in Jodie Foster’s The Accused, although here it has been re-edited in order to gain a lesser rating, enabling the film to reach its target audience. Nonetheless it is still quite strong and harrowing stuff and essentially retains the dramatic integrity of Enright’s script.
The two central performances from Bruels and Cropper provide some gut wrenching emotional depth to the confronting, hard hitting material, giving it a biting edge, honesty and topicality that resonates long after the final credits. Lyndon, who played Jared in the stage version, also delivers a marvellous performance as the charismatic but amoral Ricko. Vidler draws natural and unforced performances from his primarily youthful cast, many of whom are appearing in their first feature film, while the solid presence of veteran Chris Haywood, as a police detective, further enhances the material.
Steve Kilbey, from The Church, has created a suitably gritty and grungy ambient soundscape for the film that complements the superb soundtrack featuring cutting edge contemporary bands such as Sidewinder, Beasts Of Bourbon and silverchair.