I like movies with a heart. I’m not talking about syrupy-sweet overly sentimental films. I mean movies with a genuine heart, crafted as a labor of love. So it is with pleasure that I write about the Australian movie “Mad Bastards,” which was selected for inclusion in the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
Metaphorically speaking, a mad bastard is a guy with a little axe-wielding man in his chest. The little axe man does bad stuff in there and turns a normal guy into a mad bastard–makes him do wrong things. He might drink too much, get into fights, abuse his spouse or neglect his child. And so it goes: a guy may wrestle with his little demon for years. Even worse, demons beget more demons. Sometimes a neglected child begins to develop his own little axe man.
TJ is a mad bastard. He has been living in the city of Perth, away from his past, away from his obligations. But he wants to make a change. He hitchhikes to the remote Kimberley area of Australia to find the 13-year-old son he has never met. Bullet, TJ’s son, is already on a path to trouble; he recently got caught after setting fire to someone’s home. Bullet’s mother Nella has her own drinking problem. Bullet’s grandpa, Texas (or Grandpa Tex), is the local law enforcement official. He’s also a stern but caring voice of reason. Tex has sent Bullet away to a tough love camp for two weeks to teach him how to become man. Then TJ shows up. Of course, the family reunion doesn’t exactly go well.
“Mad Bastards” was directed by Brendan Fletcher. Fletcher began working on the movie’s concept many years ago, and he began without much of a real screenplay. Instead, he worked with indigenous mixed-race people in the Kimberley area–people who could relate to issues of domestic violence, alcohol abuse and other struggles of life. They shared their stories. Fletcher cast many of these people in his film. In the words of the director, “We constructed a story together that resonated with them and was real to their lives.” The result is a touching, solidly entertaining film about rebuilding one’s life amid adversity.
The cast of first time actors includes Dean Daley-Jones as TJ, Lucas Yeeda as Bullet, Greg Tait as Texas, Ngaire Pigram as Nella, plus an endearing supporting performance from Douglas Macale as Uncle Black. While the acting may be a little rough around the edges, everyone provides honest performances–often on par with major acting talents. Seeing these people embody their characters on the screen is an uncommon treat. The cinematography showcases striking landscapes from Kimberley as well as the harsh conditions in which many people live from this region. The photography and lighting are realistic and natural–beautiful without ostentation. The music of the film is warm and immersive; it features music by Stephen and Alan Pigram and Alex Lloyd. The musicians also appear in the movie as troubadours. The soundtrack is currently available online (Apple iTunes) under the title “Music for Mad Bastards.”
Another aspect of “Mad Bastards” worth mentioning is its unabashed portrayal of masculine but emotional male characters. I think I can count on one hand the films that I have seen which so bravely and honestly portray sensitive male emotional issues–things like wrestling with one’s inner demons, the desire to be a good father, controlling one’s anger.
Two of the actors appearing in minor roles in “Mad Bastards” were involved in a real-life domestic abuse related murder just months after filming was completed. While this is not a happy note to end on, I believe the tragedy underscores the importance of learning to prevent domestic violence–to stop the cycles of substance abuse and physical abuse. A film cannot save the world, but it’s not unreasonable to hope that “Mad Bastards” can help someone somewhere to master their demon.
Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars
2010, Not Rated, 94 minutes, Drama