While there have certainly been some big hits at the Australian box office over the last few years, it is difficult to translate the success of local produce to the international stage. It could be that the local focus of many Australian films may not appeal to international audiences, already inundated by the might of the Hollywood hit machine. Yet 2010 was an exception to this rule, producing a string of Australian hits that also gained attention overseas. Animal Kingdom was not only a box-office and AFI Award success locally, but it has garnered Golden Globe nominations and is hotly tipped for an Oscar nod for actress Jackie Weaver. Red Hill, starring True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten, was actually released in the US prior to its Australian screening late last year. Now Brendan Fraser’s Mad Bastards, which saw its world premiere at the Sydney Festival last week, is screening in competition at the prestigious 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
TJ (Dean Daley-Jones) is an ex-con who travels from Perth to the Kimberley to reunite with his estranged son Bullet (Lucas Yeeda). Bullet is currently undergoing his own set of problems; with the town cop Texas (Greg Tait) having just sent him off to a traditional camp to control his own violence issues. Texas is just as tough as TJ, and as the two collide, they both learn a little more about their own lives and their concepts of family.
Treading familiar territory of familial angst and domestic violence, Fraser transplants the typically middle-class focus of Australia’s suburban mayhem to the issues facing Aboriginal Australians in Western Australia’s Kimberly region. Using a cast of non-actors, and music of local boys the Pigram Brothers, director Fraser creates an air of authenticity not previously seen in a fictional feature film of this kind. Daley-Jones had previously worked as a grip on some film sets, and it was on this basis that he approached Mad Bastards for additional work. However, seeing that they had a leading man on their hands, the casting was a masterstroke: Daley-Jones is a powerful leading man, commanding the presence of a seasoned professional. Likewise, Tait – an actual policeman from the region – has a terrific chemistry with Daley-Jones. Despite his gruff exterior, one suspects that he has a heart of gold. In the film, Texas starts a group for men to discuss problems they might be having, revealing a sensitive side not eroded by some of the harshest conditions in this big, brown, flat and mysterious country of ours.
Perhaps what sets Mad Bastards apart is the blend of music and visuals that mark it as not only distinctly Australian, but uniquely Western Australian as well. Songs and music from the Pigrams and the ARIA Award-winning Alex Lloyd are both familiar and fresh, and are instrumental in taking both T.J and the audience on the emotional journey through the Australia landscape. For that is what Mad Bastards is at its core: a journey that irrevocably changes your outlook on life.
The Reel Bits: A fresh and hard-hitting take on a familiar issue on-screen, made all the more powerful by a cast of non-actors who bring genuine emotional strength to the narrative. A terrific start to what should be another great year for Australian film.
Mad Bastards is released in Australia by Transmission in May 2011. IFC has already picked this up for US distribution at Sundance.