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Sundance-At-Home Film Review: Visceral Australian Drama “Mad Bastards”

Photo of Caryn James By Caryn James | James on Screens January 24, 2011 at 2:30AM

Set in the isolated Kimberley region of Western Australian, director Brendan Fletcher’s gripping, unsentimental father-son film is even more intriguing when you know its background. Mad Bastards follows three generations: 13-year old Bullet, a budding arsonist; his grandfather, Tex, a police officer who tries to set him straight; and TJ, the wayward father Bullet has never known. Not a fresh idea, but one that steadily draws us in with its realism.
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Set in the isolated Kimberley region of Western Australian, director Brendan Fletcher’s gripping, unsentimental father-son film is even more intriguing when you know its background. Mad Bastards follows three generations: 13-year old Bullet, a budding arsonist; his grandfather, Tex, a police officer who tries to set him straight; and TJ, the wayward father Bullet has never known. Not a fresh idea, but one that steadily draws us in with its realism.

Only at the end do we learn that the film was based on stories told by the mostly-unprofessional cast, drawing on their own lives. The plot is different, but the dynamics are the same: Dean Daley-Jones, who plays the drinking, fighting, fiercely angry TJ, (in the photo above) used to be that person, and is now getting to know his teenaged son. Greg Tait, who plays Tex, was actually a local Kimberley policeman. Ngair Pigram, who plays Bullet’s mother, Nella, is the only professional in the film, but as she says when the actors appear out of character at the end of the film, she has experienced a violent relationship.

Although the film is homegrown, there is not a whiff of amateurism as we follow the strands of the story: TJ, returning to Kimberley and finding he is entirely unwelcome; Tex, trying to start a men’s discussion group to encourage paternal responsibility and essentially getting nowhere. Even young Lucas Yeeda, as Bullet, is touching. He resists the father he has never met before, even as he seems to be following his path toward become an out-of-control mad bastard.

The film takes great advantage of the broad, haunting landscape and of the local cramped houses and dusty yards; you can almost feel the heat and sun. The music is authentic, too, featuring the bluesy music of local musicians The Pigram Brothers (the actress Ngair Pigram is the daughter of one brother), who are among the film’s producers.

Mad Bastards is Fletcher’s first dramatic feature, although he has worked on music documentaries, co-directing Texas, about Russell Crowe’s band 30 Odd Foot of Grunt. Playing in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at Sundance, it is also on demand on Sundance Selects.

Don't expect a catchy plot; this beautiful, tough little film relies on the more resonant story of men trying, without easy answers, to sort out their lives and futures.

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