Sweet Country, directed by Warwick Thornton, is a sobering reminder that Australia shares a racist past just as deplorable as the one we’ve experienced here in America.
It tells the story of an Aboriginal farmhand that, in trying to protect his wife, has to kill a White farmer who believes the couple is hiding a young Aboriginal thief named Philomac. But during this time, whether it was self-defense or not, a “native” killing a White man is punishable by death. Which leads the farmhand and his wife having to go on the run deep into the Australian bush. Where they not only have to face the dangers of surviving unknown territory but also evading capture by an obsessed military sergeant played brilliantly by Bryan Brown.
“Everything in Sweet Country just feels authentic…”
Warwick Thornton doesn’t pull any punches with this film. There are scenes that are so hard to watch you’ll probably turn your head till their over. But this is subject matter that should be uncomfortable sit through.
For example, there’s a scene where the farmhand’s wife is raped by the farmer right before his death and is basically told she and her husband would be skinned alive if she said anything. So she just has to power through her rape, while being beaten at the same time. Things take a turn for the worst when she finds out that she’s pregnant by her attacker.
The couple eventually turn themselves in only to have to face a public trial, with all of the town looking on. And though the federal judge brought in to try the case is fair and unbiased in his rulings, the angry townspeople have already determined that they are guilty and should be executed!
This is the type of movie that makes writing reviews worth it. Everything in Sweet Country just feels authentic. A big reason for that is the gorgeous cinematography by Dylan River. There are no wasted shots. He uses the countryside to paint a larger picture of that world.
Another reason is the use of actual Aboriginal actors in the film. Particularly that of the character Archie (Gibson John) who is the farmhand of local watermelon farmer Mick Kennedy, and “guardian” of the young thief who started this whole series of unfortunate events, Philomac.
“This is the type of movie that makes writing reviews worth it…”
Though it definitely hits on the racism of Australia back in the 1920’s, it also shows the “in-family” fighting among the people of color. It wasn’t uncommon for people of persecution to turn each other for the favor of their oppressors. And this is demonstrated several times.
Sweet Country is not a popcorn flick! It’s a movie that you really have to brace yourself to watch because though it is an amazing film, the subject matter isn’t pretty. It’s a deep film that doesn’t sugarcoat the atrocities people of color have always had to endure regardless of country. But it does tell a tale that even among all the evil that’s prevalent, there are always a few good people willing to put themselves out there to try to force change.
Sweet Country (2017) Directed by Warwick Thornton. Written by Steven McGregor and David Tranter. Starring Bryan Brown, Matt Day, Treymane Doolan, and Ewen Leslie
8 out of 10