STORM BOY

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Shawn Seet

Stars: Jai Courtney, Finn Little, Geoffrey Rush, Morgana Davies, Trevor Jamieson, Erik Thomson, David Gulpilil.

Finn Little in Storm Boy (2019)

Coming-of-age stories about the unconventional but uplifting friendship between children and animals have been a staple of cinema for years. Released in 1976 Henry Safran’s film version of Storm Boy was a heartfelt classic from that period of the re-emergence of the Australian film industry and it touched a generation of film goers. Adapted from Colin Thiele’s beloved 1964 novella, Storm Boy told the story of Michael, a young boy who lived along an isolated stretch of the South Australian coast with his emotionally scarred and widowed fisherman father Tom. One day he found three baby pelicans left orphaned after local hunters, opposed to the establishment of a bird sanctuary, had shot their mother. Michael took the three birds back to their rustic shack and with the help of a local aboriginal and his father nursed the birds back to health and raised them. He formed a special bond with the bird he christened Mr Percival, who became his best, and only friend, of his lonely childhood. Storm Boy also incorporated some wonderful themes about grief and loss, father and son relationships, the environment, conservation, aboriginal lore and customs, that strong connection between man and nature, and the loss of innocence.

This remake aims to introduce this timeless story to a whole new generation of film goers. But for some reason, the producers and screenwriter Justin Monjo (who hails from a background in television having worked on series such as Farscape, etc, and who also wrote Jungle for Greg McLean) have seen fit to include a clumsy framing device that centres around Michael as an old man (played now by Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush, from Shine, etc).

Michael Kingley became a multi-millionaire business man who ran a large pastoral corporation, a concept that jars somewhat with his youthful self. He has since retired and left the running of the company to his son-in-law Malcolm (Erik Thomson, from tv series 800 Words, etc). On the eve of a crucial board vote to approve the sale of a tract of family farmland to allow the expansion of mining interests, Michael wrestles with his conscience. He keeps seeing visions of pelicans. He reaches out to his 17-year-old granddaughter Madeline (Morgana Davies, from tv series The Girlfriend Experience, etc), a passionate advocate for the environment, and tells her of his childhood and the lessons he learned from his friendship with Mr Percival.

Cue lots of extended flashbacks to his childhood. Whereas the original story delivered its environmental messages with subtlety, this new version of Storm Boy delivers them with all the subtlety of a jackhammer. It is the story about the friendship between the young Michael (played by newcomer Finn Little) and the pelicans that gives the film its heart and soul. Audiences will be captivated by the cute antics of the birds.

This is only the second feature film for director Shawn Seet (Two Fists, One Heart) who hails from a background in television, having worked on series like Underbelly, The Code and Love Child, etc. There are some nice performances here, with Jai Courtney particularly stoic and reserved as Michael’s reclusive father Tom. Newcomer Little has charm, sensitivity and an appealing presence as the young Michael, and his natural performance captures the joy and adventure of childhood. Trevor Jamieson (who played the same role in the recent stage version) brings an air of mystery to his role as Fingerbone Bill, the wise aboriginal man who teaches Michael some valuable lessons. Rush is mannered and understated, but he looks a little uncomfortable here, almost as if he is concerned with his on-going off screen court litigation. The courtroom drama playing out may prove something of a distraction, and if so scenes could easily be deleted without affecting the rest of the film. And there is a nice cameo from David Gulpilil which provides a link to the original film.

Storm Boy looks great though thank to the gorgeous cinematography from Bruce Young (Blue Murder: Killer Cop, etc), which captures the pristine coastline of South Australia’s Coorong National Park region. Melinda Doring’s production design and Louise McCarthy’s costumes effortless evoke Australia of the late 50s.This new version of Storm Boy is passable entertainment which delivers some strong moral lessons, but it is largely unnecessary and works best when it sticks to the original story.

★★★

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