Mad Bastards

Review by Jane Freebury

‘Mad bastard’, that familiar Aussie expression, describes the bloke who’s brave to the point of being mad. In this new film set in Indigenous Australia, more about being mad as in angry, than it is about being mad as in crazy, and is about a bloke who is more likely to punch a hole in a wall than dangle fresh meat in front of a saltie at the water hole.

Realising that he’s come to the end of the line when his mother closes the door on him and he gets into another senseless bar room fight, urban drifter TJ (a very charismatic Dean Daley-Jones) decides to hitch to the Kimberley to see the young son he’s had never had any contact with. It’s a good move, though TJ could hardly know it, because 13-year-old Bullet (Lucas Yeeda) has just committed arson and needs a firm and compassionate fatherly hand.

The journey from Perth is no road trip, though it has some of the elements. These include encountering TJ’s encounter with Uncle Black, an enigmatic elder, and with a band of musicians – including four of the Pigram Brothers, the country/folk band from Broome – who are on a leisurely drive north themselves. Most of the terrific soundtrack is their music and it quite often carries the narrative.

It is hard to envisage exactly what TJ had in mind when he made his decision to reconnect with Bullet and his mum, the feisty Nella (Ngaire Pigram), but it turns into a flight towards responsibility rather than an escape from it, obliging TJ to confront the little man wielding an axe that he says lives inside him.

He’s not the only one who needs to open up. Embedded in the film’s rather chaotic exposition are scenes of a men’s group. There’s no holding back as they men tuck in at the sausage sizzle they have each time they meet, but the conversation just doesn’t flow. They sit together in complete silence. Would the job of convenor Tex (Greg Tait), be a bit easier if he wasn’t the local policeman too?

There’s obviously more to this sitting together in silence than meets the eye. Besides men’s group there are other occasions when sitting in silence together on the water’s edge, or gazing into the wilderness is an expression of togetherness. Silence can also be a sign for what’s good, especially when it’s where country is ‘like medicine’.

Daley-Jones has said he told writer-director Brendan Fletcher, who is not Indigenous, he didn’t want to be in anything that exploited blackfellas or had a poor-fellow-me tone. He and the rest of the largely non-professional cast should be proud of the energy, emotional honesty and compassion they have brought to their film.

In a capsule: A new Indigenous film set in the Kimberleys that’s carried by impressive central performances from non-professional actors who bring their own energy, emotional honesty and compassion. Infectious soundtrack too.

4 stars