Movie Review: Mad Bastards (Showing at Dendy Cinema, Newtown)

Mad Bastards is the debut feature from writer/director Brendan Fletcher, a man who is both successful in setting a compelling drama in the not-often seen Kimberley region of Australia and making an audience aware of the rich culture that exists there. While this confronting and powerful tale often reveals a lack of confidence and skill to effectively drive its narrative and sustain its audience’s interest, it does manage to impressively study three generations of life in the harsh Australian outback, and balance strong themes of community, wayward youth, masculine despair and redemption, domestic violence and alcoholism.

TJ (Dean Daley-Jones) has never seen his son. He is a troubled man with an attitude and a violent streak. He is a ‘Mad Bastard’, raised in a culture of domestic violence and alcoholism from which he has never recovered. Seeking to right the wrongs that have plagued his life, he hopes to heal the wounds he has caused to his son, Bullet (Lucas Yeeda), and become the father figure that the now misguided boy desperately needs, having grown up under similar circumstances.

TJ, desperate to see his son, sets out from his Perth residence to cover the 2000 kilometres to a small town in the Kimberley region, meeting a host of colourful individuals along the way and discovering a new life infused with music, community and peace. Now it all sounds like quite a moving tale, but it’s predominantly a pretty depressing one. Despite the reliance on the close-up to draw us into these characters, we often find ourselves distanced and a little put off by their personalities. While we eventually come to care for these characters, accepting that it takes time to resolve past conflicts, it is a bit of an ordeal watching their story unfold.

Mad Bastards features a great soundtrack from Alex Lloyd and the Pigram Brothers, which the film really relies on. With nearly every sequence accompanied by music, it hides the lack of confidence in the simple narrative sustaining the running time, and gives us a break from the intensity. With the film shot on location, it is one of the best representations of Indigenous culture I have seen. Everyone knows everyone else and they live day-to-day on hardships; relying on survival instincts and hunting, and communal gatherings, such as the ones presented throughout the film, to cling to humanity. The film is so realistic, especially early on, that it is hardly enjoyable. But once TJ begins his quest, the intensity of the violence and the profanities are not so apparent and we start to relax.

In the second half there are a few moments when the drama seems a little staged. Having been introduced to a friendly elder in a nearby town, he bumps into him again and befriends him for the rest of his journey. He actually lives in the same town as Bullet, and knows everyone. I kept thinking, “who is this guy, and why was he destined to be TJ’s companion?” Also, the relationship with Bullet’s mother was aggravatingly predictable and melodramatic at times. Fletcher draws honest and moving performances from almost his entire cast of non-actors, and it is clear in the interviews at the conclusion, that they have shaped their performances from personal experiences. Mad Bastards has not done well at the box office, which is a shame because it really deserves to be seen by more people. If it is still playing at a cinema near you, it is well worth checking out.

Mad Bastards is playing at Dendy Newtown. I rate the film 3 Stars.


You can read more of Andrew’s reviews at his weekly updated blog: Andy Buckle’s Film Emporium

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