“All of our humanity is dependent upon recognising the humanity in others.”
“Like a single drop of venom dangling from a scorpion’s stinger”, Sweet Country is a haunting reminder that death by boredom is always near. An aimless, dry script with the characters on screen like the writers in their element, circling the outskirts of a camp of creativity to find only empty space and opportunity to abuse the attention span of audiences. As one critics’ inflated review gets right, it certainly feels awash with “futility and predetermination.”
Sweet Country is an “Australian western set on the Northern Territory frontier in the 1920s, where justice itself is put on trial when an aged Aboriginal farmhand shoots a white man in self-defense and goes on the run as a posse gathers to hunt him down.” I won’t belabor the details of what amounts to a first hour act of frivolity met with a second hour charade of painful judicial rhetoric and non-compliant witness corroboration that makes the process as hard on the audience as it must have been on the actors having to sit through the performances. I understand the gravity of the subject-matter, but Warwick Thornton has fundamentally failed to draw either sympathy, or appreciation in what behaves like a film on a shoestring budget.
But for the theme that is sure to raise the inflation meter for critics, it makes otherwise no sense why this film is being celebrated as anything but average. Sure the themes of the power of the law versus vigilante justice is indicative of a culture that runs on black bodies. But the character development and the almost comical perseverance of Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) renders him far too one-dimensional and intellectually challenged to carry the banner of that pivotal moment of self-awareness regarding his role to uphold justice. When poor writing, the acting soon became strained just an ounce of water from the dryness of the near two hour saga that seemingly progresses while ultimately staying in place. Further, as Chelsea Phillips-Carr (Cinema-Score) notes, the female actress “is given no voice of her own” — even when compelled by the judge to speak words that would exonerate her husband — instead, being relegated to “a pawn” without a voice to educate on the role of race and gender as Twelve Years a Slave had done in gruesome (physical) detail.
Vast majority of critics have unanimously fawned over this film. Having read most of the top critics, the reason seems to be entirely based on its “ravishing visuals” and the fact that the movie is a “searing indictment of frontier racism.” Slave films have a profound opportunity to draw the audience into a hollowed space for sympathy and self-reflection and Sweet Country squanders most of this terrain on dirt and sunshine. If you want to see a recent film that merits the applause of critics based on the alleged strengths of Sweet Country, go rent Vazante.
When you set a bar too low, the overall quality of films will begin to behave accordingly. In this generation, average filmmakers are thriving thanks to low standards.