Snowtown (Justin Kurzel, 2012)
Given that director Justin Kurzel and screenwriter Shaun Grant were both making their feature-film debuts, Snowtown is a very impressive piece of work, a biopic that straddles the line between exploitation and education successfully, seems to have stuck close to the actual story based on what I’ve read (other than making Jamie Vlassakis more sympathetic), and wrung fine performances out of a cast that seems to have been aggressively recruited from among the world of non-professional actors. There are things that could have been done to make the movie better, but what we got is well worth your time as long as you can stomach some of the more brutal scenes (and even at its worst, Kurzel kept the bloodflow relatively light on this one; it is far more In Cold Blood than it is Wolf Creek).
Plot: Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway in his screen debut—as is everyone listed in the summary without a credit) is twelve years old as we open. He describes a recurring dream he has; this is not a mentally stable individual. His mother Elizabeth (Louise Harris)’s boyfriend, one night when babysitting, convinces the boys to undress and have pictures taken of them, which leaks out into the community. Elizabeth is angry and, desiring revenge, turns to local in-the-know guy Barry (The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce‘s Richard Green), who introduces her to virulent, angry, charismatic anti-pedophile John Bunting (Not Suitable for Children‘s Daniel Henshall). Bunting, with the help of his friend Robert (Aaron Viergever), Jamie, and a few others from the neighborhood, start a campaign aimed at driving the boyfriend out of the neighborhood. While this is occurring, Jamie starts bonding with John, who starts seeming like the father figure Jamie never had, and Robert. John hangs around, stirring up the natives, getting involved with Elizabeth, and further befriending Jamie. And when John’s tactics turn more violent, up to and including murder, John offers Jamie the chance to finish off someone whose crimes hit very close to home indeed.
In a reversal from my usual complaint about movies like this, it’s the first half of the movie that worked for me—the slow part that shows how John Bunting not only ingratiated himself into a family, but into an entire neighborhood, many of whom were more than willing to condone his activities as time went on. Shaun Grant’s examination of Bunting’s infiltration of lower-class society, while less fact-based than the latter half of the film, is persuasive and thoughtful. Once the movie tries to get down to brass tacks, it seems almost as if Kurzel is trying to court broadcast television; I’m amazed the film was given an R when submitted for rating in America given how non-explicit it is, save a scene or two. This certainly doesn’t make it not worth watching, but don’t go into it expecting nastiness. ***