DISCLOSURE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Michael Bentham

Stars: Matilda Ridgway, Mark Leonard Winter, Geraldine Hakewill, Tom Wren, Greg Stone. 

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Not to be confused with the Barry Levinson directed 1994 erotic thriller of the same name, starring Michael Douglas and Demi Moore, that looked at the issue of sexual harassment and power struggles in the workplace, this provocative and intimate drama looks at the darker side of suburban life in contemporary Australia. 

Two sets of parents gather together to discuss an incident involving their children, but things turn ugly as the impromptu meeting progresses.   

Natasha Bowman, a four-year-old girl, makes an allegation of sex abuse against the nine-year-old son of a family friend. Emily (Matilda Ridgway) is a documentary filmmaker, while her husband Daniel (Mark Leonard Winter) is a journalist and writer who is working on a book about Afghanistan. They want to report the incident to child protection services. They both possess a strong social conscience which has informed their work.  

Joel Chalmers (Tom Wren) is an ambitious conservative politician running for reelection on a campaign of strong families and child protection and safety and his career would be ruined by the allegations being made public. His wife Bek (Geraldine Hakewill) is uptight, tense and unforgiving. A former victim of child abuse herself, which has left her psychologically damaged, she questions the veracity of Natasha’s allegations. Joel and Bek are more concerned with image, reputation and the damage these allegations will do to their status within the community.  

One pleasant Sunday afternoon the parents of the alleged perpetrator drop by unannounced to discuss the incident and its repercussions with Daniel and Emily and try to work out a solution. While the two men seem more willing to reach a compromise, the two women are fiercely determined to protect the children. During the at times heated discussions more secrets emerge, and allegations are made and the veneer of civilization is slowly stripped away.  

Disclosure is the debut feature from writer/director Michael Bentham, who originally trained as a musician in England and Switzerland before switching to the world of filmmaking. The film deals with themes of sexuality, family, parental responsibility, reputations, abuse, the social impact of pornography and addiction, and the issues raised here challenge the audience and take them outside their own comfort zone. Some of the plot structure and issues raised will seem reminiscent of The Slap, the ABC television adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ best-selling novel. But first-time filmmaker Bentham offers up no easy or straight answers, instead working in shades of grey as he explores the complex reactions of the adults.    

A largely dialogue driven drama Disclosure is essentially a four handed drama that takes place in a limited location. Most of the action takes place around Emily and Daniel’s swimming pool, giving the material very much the look and feel of a stage play although Bentham does make an effort to open it up a couple of times. Indeed, Disclosure will strongly remind audiences of Carnage, the Roman Polanski adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s theatrical drama God Of Carnage. Cinematographer Mark Carey (who has shot several of Bentham’s short films) works in close up and long takes a lot of the time, which gives the material a claustrophobic feel. The film was shot on location in the Yarra Ranges in Victoria, and Carey delivers a strong sense of place. There is also some great production design from Juliet John 

Bentham elicits strong, honest and compassionate performances from his small cast, many of whom have worked together in the past and this shapes their on-screen relationships. Hakewill is a stand out as the icy and controlled Bek, who may know more about what really happened than she is willing to admit, and she brings a suitably cold demeanour to the role. Veteran Greg Stone is given little to do as Joel’s taciturn bodyguard, but he has a strong, silent and vaguely threatening presence. 

★★★

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