STRANGERLAND (Australia/Ireland/15A/112mins)
Directed by Kim Farrant. Starring Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, Hugo Weaving, Maddison Brown, Nicholas Hamilton, Meyne Wyatt, Sean Keenan, Jim Russell.
THE PLOT: It’s Tennessee Williams hot in the small Australian desert town of Nathgari, and new arrivals Catherine (Kidman) and Matthew (Fiennes) haven’t quite found the fresh new start they were hoping for. Their young son, Tom (Hamilton), likes to go walking around the town at night whilst their 15-year-old daughter Lilly (Brown) is in full Lolita mode, flirting with just about everyone and anything in trousers. The parents’ sexless-verging-on-loveless marriage is thrown into sharp focus though when their two kids wander off one night and never come back, local cop Rae (Weaving) soon on the case. But there are plainly ugly truths at play here…
THE VERDICT: Having picked up the long-gestating and faltering script initiated by Fiona Seres, Irish writer Michael Kinirons saw his chance here to add to cinema’s great Australian outback disappearance genre, ‘Strangerland’ inevitably echoing the likes of ‘Walkabout’ and ‘Picnic At Hanging Rock’ (the latter an all-time favourite of Kinirons). They’re mighty big EMU boots to fill though, and despite the presence of the huggable Hugo Weaving and fallen box-office giant Kidman letting it all hang out in the name of arthouse, ‘Strangerland’ struggles to convince.
Part of the problem is, of course, the buckling presence of Kidman, for so long now the very opposite of a major draw at the box-office. Having her cast alongside the Andrew Ridgely of cinema doesn’t exactly help the problem either. Unknowns in these pivotal roles might not have helped the budget, but they would have certainly helped the film.
Review by Paul Byrne

Review by Paul Byrne
2.0Struggles to convince
  • filmbuff2011

    Australian-Irish co-production Strangerland is the feature debut of Kim Farrant, who has worked on short films and documentaries. It’s a strong, assured debut that should mark her out as a name to watch.

    Catherine (Nicole Kidman) and Matthew (Joseph Fiennes) are a married couple living near the outback with two teenage children: Lily (Maddison Brown) and Tom (Nicholas Hamilton). All is not well at home. Lily is recovering from a personal problem, but is only getting worse due the lack of attention from her parents. Tom can’t sleep and is prone to walking at night in the neighbourhood. One night, Tom wanders off and Lily follows him. There’s no sign of them the next day. As the first 24 hours pass, it becomes apparent that they’ve disappeared. Catherine becomes distraught and Matthew becomes a threat to a number of people involved with Lily. This draws the attention of the police detective on the case, Rae (Hugo Weaving). As the events unfold over a desperate search for the teenagers, we watch the slow and gradual disintegration of this family…

    Co-written by Fiona Seres and Michael Kinirons, Strangerland is immediately gripping. The missing child scenario is nothing new, but the way that the story develops is impressive. Farrant may be a fan of Michael Haneke – there’s that same sense of the director turning the screws and stripping away the layers of her characters until we find out what they’re really made of. Take nothing at face value here. The story goes to some dark places, so this isn’t exactly what you might expect. In fact, it’s better than expected and the twists and turns are convincing and realistic. We know that Kidman can really deliver when she wants to and her mother’s anguish is heartfelt here. Her character’s breakdown is sympathetic, but there’s still a sense of a very scarred and damaged soul trying to make things right. Fiennes and Weaving lend strong support.

    Strangerland is handsomely staged in sunburnt New South Wales locations, with the unforgiving landscape becoming a character in itself. It’s a visually arresting film that makes good use of close-ups of faces and sweeping shots of the outback. Farrant doesn’t offer any easy answers or even a clear resolution, but you have to admire her guts for it. Strangerland is another high quality Australian film – they rarely make duds. Bloody oath! ****