Port Arthur’s Nitram film amazes critics and audiences



Several things happened when the lights came on after the premiere of Nitrame, the first Australian film to be selected for the prestigious Cannes Film Festival competition in a decade. The audience rose to give the film a seven-minute standing ovation. Caleb Landry Jones, who plays the mass killer at the center of the film, was in tears. And then Spike Lee, president of the jury for the Cannes competition, came to give him a congratulatory hug. Completely against the COVID rules, sure, but Spike Lee knows what he likes.

Then the first reviews, under embargo until the end of the screening, were posted online. “A hypnotically disturbing film,” concluded The gardians Chief critic, Peter Bradshaw, in a four-star review, explaining the background to the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.Nitrame is an exceptionally harsh, grueling film with a hard-to-shake cue, ”David Rooney told the trade magazine. hollywood reporter. Variety Critic Jessica Kiang praised the film’s respect for the victims, as well as its excellent performances. “Nitrame could be recognized as one of the best examples of mass shooting film to date – as long as we can accept having a whole genre built around the phenomenon, ”she wrote.

Producer Nick Batzias, actor Caleb Landry Jones, director Justin Kurzel and screenwriter Shaun Grant at the Nitram premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.Credit:Getty Images

Director Justin Kurzel tells his story quietly. The boldest decision he made with screenwriter Shaun Grant was not to show the massacre itself. Instead, the focus is on Martin Bryant’s relationship with his family: his pointy, shriveled mother (Judy Davis), the father who himself stands on the brink of a depressive abyss (Anthony LaPaglia) and Helen (Essie Davis). ), the middle-aged heiress fairy who takes in this young loner, teaches him how to sing Gilbert and Sullivan’s tongue twisters, then dies unexpectedly. With the money he inherits from her, his young playmate can buy any gun he likes.

The great strength of Grant’s screenplay is that it bears witness to his central character – never given any other name than Nitram, a backwards name given to the backward boy from school – without seeking to reconfigure the facts of his life. in an explanation. A TV report on the Dunblane school shooting in Scotland, which occurred just weeks before the Port Arthur massacre and may have inspired him, shows a police chief telling reporters that they don’t know why the author did this and that they probably never will. The same goes for the fictitious killer.


There are, however, clues as to what he is becoming. The film opens with a TV interview with the real shooter, then about 10 years old, hospitalized after being burned while playing with fireworks. Had he learned his lesson? asks the offscreen reporter. Would he still be playing with fireworks? You bet he would. As an adult – shown to be disturbing and quite unpleasant in what Hollywood journalist described as a “performance without vanity” by Jones – he enjoys passing crackers over the fence to the children of his old elementary school, daring them to take a chance.

“These are my friends!” he protests when his father answers the director’s call to come and take him away. But of course Nitram doesn’t have any friends; his efforts to team up with local surfers by buying a board makes the viewing atrocious. The moment he walks into the armory, unlicensed but with a bag full of money, we can see that this shouldn’t be able to happen. We may not know what drives him to murder, but we do know that this is what most snipers look like: insane, excluded, isolated.

“Could there be something evasive about Kurzel’s decision not to show the climax of Bryant’s existence?” I don’t think so, ”writes Bradshaw in The Guardian. “Scenes like these could throw the film off balance, which so intriguingly showed the eerie and imminent intensity of Bryant, the floating weirdness of his thoughts, mixed with the smelly boredom and lack of purpose of its quivering existence. ” Rather than shock with violence, Nitrame shock with facts. When the film ended with a thought-provoking ending title stating that there are more guns in Australia now than there were in 1996, half of Cannes audiences had the Shallow breathing.

Point of Nitrame, says producer Nick Batzias, is not to wrap up the whole Port Arthur story but to spark a conversation about it. The film sold out in most European territories, with UK and German contracts due before the end of the festival. “In the US there is interest, but I think with a film like this a lot of people are going to wait and see what the critical response will be,” says Batzias, who is in Cannes with the movie. “But he’s going to sell most of the land by the time we leave here. And everyone who bought it is the right home for this kind of movie, interested in this conversation. “

Nitrame will have its Australian premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival on August 6 before a national theatrical release. The film is produced by Good Thing Productions, with Stan (owned by Nine, the owner of this mast) and the Melbourne International Film Festival among its backers.

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