Category Archives: Australian crime film

Empty beaches: In search of Australia’s fictional private eyes

Empty BeachSeptember 12 marked the 30th anniversary of the release of a little-known Australian crime movie, The Empty Beach. The film fared poorly upon release and is still unavailable on DVD — you’d have to track down a rare second-hand VHS edition to view it.

Nonetheless, the film is something of an obsession of mine and I have been wanting to write about it in detail for a while now. This is partly because I am a huge Bryan Brown as well as always being fascinated with movies that I thinks are good but which have, for whatever reason, sunk into obscurity.

Also The Empty Beach and its source material, the third book in what has become a long-running series by Sydney writer Peter Corris, feature something largely absent from Australian crime fiction and film: the bone fide, card-carrying, full-time private investigator for hire.

I finally got around to writing a piece on the film and its source book for the Los Angeles Review of Books. You can read the essay, ‘Empty Beaches: In Search of Australia’s Fictional Private Eyes’ in full here.

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MIFF report back #5: Downriver

DOWNRIVER1170Grant Scicluna’s debut feaure, Downriver is a dark tale of secrets and redemption set in a small rural town. Although, I haven’t seen Scicluna stress the theme anywhere, it is also a film largely dominated by gay male relationships.

The film opens with eighteen-year-old James (Reef Ireland) being confronted upon his parole by the mother of a child whose death by drowning was the reason for his lengthy incarceration. The body of the boy has never been found, a fact that particularly haunts the mother. James suspects his childhood friend Anthony (Thom Green), who was also present when the child died, hid the body but he was never charged.

Once free, James is obsessed with finding the boy’s body. He defies his parole officer and his mother (Kerry Fox) and goes to stay at the caravan park near to the river where the death took place. James confronts Anthony, who claims to know nothing more than he has already told the police. He befriends Damien (Charles Grounds), an impressionable young man also staying at the caravan park, and who turns into an ally of sorts in James’ mission.

It becomes apparent very quickly that Anthony’s silence is bound up in a much larger and darker conspiracy involving the boy’s death and Anthony’s extremely dangerous family.… Read more


strangerland-poster-cinema-australiaInitial impressions can be deceiving in Kim Farrant’s debut feature movie, Strangerland.

On the surface it appears to be another version of the women-and-children-in-danger-plot-line so popular at the moment (think Gone Girl, Top of the Lake and half the crime novels that have been published in the last few years). But the film boasts some interesting twists and bravely examines themes you won’t see in many of the similar films.

The Parker’s have just moved to Nathgari, a spec of a town (‘population 1048’), surrounded by a seemingly endless expanse of beautiful but inhospitably sun blasted outback. The family unit – Catherine (Nicole Kidman), her highly-strung husband, Matthew (Joseph Fiennes), daughter Lily (Maddison Brown) and young son, Tommy (Nicholas Hamilton) – is clearly under pressure. Tommy, in particular, is intensely resentful about the move.

It becomes obvious fairly quickly that whatever it is that they’ve had to flee is connected to Lily and her burgeoning sexuality. Despite being a minor, she is sexually active and this has caused problems in the past, clearly sign posted when Matthew tells his son: ‘Don’t let her out of your sight, ok?’

It is no surprise then when both kids go missing. Indeed, Matthew watches from one of the windows of their home, as they leave in the middle of the night.… Read more

Pulp Friday: The Chain Reaction

The Chain ReactionLast week I posted on the paperback tie-ins for the first three Mad Max films. Continuing my Australian dystopian road movie theme, today’s Pulp Friday offering is the rare paperback tie-in to the 1980 Australian film, The Chain Reaction.

I wrote about The Chain Reaction in a recent piece for the British Institute on Australian dystopian road films. Not every movie mentioned in that article had, in my opinion, necessarily aged well, but this one certainly had. Billed in some places as Mad Max Meets the China Syndrome (George Miller was associate producer and apparently worked on an early draft of the script), not only is it a great road movie, it’s also an interesting artefact from the time when Australia was less enamoured with being part of America’s nuclear state than we are now.

An earthquake in rural Australia causes a dangerous leak at a nuclear waste disposal site, contaminating the surrounding ground water. A scientist, badly injured in the accident, escapes with knowledge about what has happened and is rescued by a holidaying couple, Larry, an ex-Vietnam Vet mechanic (Steve Bisley, who got the role off the back of his performance as Goose in Mad Max) and his wife, Carmel (Arna-Maria Winchester). The shadowy American company that own the facility dispatch a couple of hired killers to track down and eliminate the scientist and anyone he has had contact with.… Read more

Sons and daughters of Mad Max: 10 great Australian dystopian road movies

The_Chain_Reaction_1980_posterWhen former doctor turned director George Miller released his first full-length feature film, Mad Max, in 1979, he wasn’t to know he had created what would become one of Australia’s greatest celluloid exports. Mad Max spawned a number of imitators and knockoffs internationally and had a profound impact on the Australian film industry. It resulted in two sequels in the 80s and a third, Mad Max: Fury Road, currently receiving rave reviews internationally.

Australia’s sheer size and relatively concentrated population means much of its cinema has either taken the form of road movies or contains aspects of the road film genre. Australian road movies encompass comedy (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, 1994), romance (Japanese Story, 2003) and drama (Last Ride, 2009). Unless the characters have money for a plane ticket, any plot that involves leaving a major urban centre is going to necessitate a large amount of road travel.

But Mad Max has origins in and, in turn, profoundly influenced a particular strand of Australian film, which combines dystopian and noir themes with the destructive power of cars and the country’s harsh, sparsely populated land mass. Some of the factors that influenced these films have a resonance beyond Australia, such as masculine car culture and fears of societal breakdown, particularly during the energy crisis in the 70s and early 80s.… Read more