Hollywood has showed a renewed energy and vigour towards exposing the harsh cruelties of the slave trade over the past few years. 12 Years a Slave, Django Unchained and Mudbound, have all found success both critically and at the box office. However, the spotlight on the plight of those in bondage under colonial rule is mostly concentrated on America. In Warwick Thornton’s new film Sweet Country, the plight of the Aboriginal peoples is brought into focus through the medium of a western.
Sam (Hamilton Morris), an Aboriginal farmer, ekes out an existence in the outback in the Northern Territory of Australia. Along with his wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber), he’s sent by an altruistic preacher (Sam Neill) to help Harry March (Ewen Leslie) renovate his property. Harry, an alcoholic war veteran with a temper, goes after Sam; who kills him in self-defence. Realising that he’ll be hanged for shooting a white man, Sam and Lizzie go on the run, pursued by the malicious Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown).
Sweet Country is a thoughtful meditation on race, bigotry, colonialism and justice in the form of an Australian western. Veteran actors Neill and Brown impress but it’s the largely unprofessional Aboriginal actors who give the film its heart and soul. Morris is outstanding. The bleak and inhospitable MacDonnell Ranges are beautifully captured through the cinematography of Dylan River. With Sweet Country, Thornton, whose first film Samson and Delilah deservedly won him many awards, proves that he’s one of Australia’s most original and important voices.
Sweet Country is out in cinemas from 9 March.