Sunday, May 17, 2015

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi Vey!: RESISTANCE (1994)

With MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015) roaring into theaters this weekend, we figured we’d get something post-apocalyptic up for review.  Using our hive mind, Tom and I both ended up watching the Australian film RESISTANCE (1994) on the same evening without mentioning it to each other.  As they say great minds think alike…and apparently ours do too!  What led us both to this film is it was co-directed by Hugh Keays-Byrne, the great Brit-by-birth-Aussie-by-career actor. Keays-Byrne is legendary in the Mad Max universe for his portrayal of the villain Toecutter in the first film and – in one of the coolest casting moves by a director in the last few years – returned to the series as new villain Immortan Joe in FURY ROAD.  So seeing his version of a bleak Australian future was definitely interesting.  The end result was also, uh, interesting.

The film opens with a declaration that “the time is now” and explains how the people are rioting, the country is bankrupt, and martial law is in effect.  The bulk of the film takes place at the isolated Ithaca Flour Mill, run by the seedy (haha) Strickland (Bogdan Koca).  It is harvest time and Natalie (Helen Jones) has returned to her hometown with Wiley (Robyn Nevin) to get a temporary job in the fields/factory.  However, Ithaca forewoman Jean (Lorna Lesley) informs the workers that she only has room for fifteen people versus last year’s fifty, due to Strickland cutting a deal with the government to use prison labor.  This creates a conflict for Jean as well as her husband, Autrey (Sam Toomey), is currently locked up in one of these government work farms.  The dusty town is filled with all kinds of odd characters including Natalie’s family (that lives a tribal, off-the-grid existence) and Peter (Keays-Byrne), a drunk who bootlegs grain alcohol and has a dark political past.


What no one in the town knows is that the Government has passed the “Emergency Powers Act” and soon the place is surrounded by spike strips, huge tanks, a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears soldiers, and some downright bloodthirsty mercenaries.  When Autrey and another local boy escape from the prison camp and are killed by the soldiers, Jean decides she must team up with Natalie to offer a bit of the film’s title.

One of the problems with the film is I unfairly went into it with the Mad Max series in mind.  This was obviously helped by the VHS cover (see above) which depicts a tattoo-clad woman sporting an AK-47 seemingly ready to deliver some justice and seeing Aussie legend Grant Page listed as the stunt coordinator.  Unfortunately, this is a bit more Sad Max than Mad Max.  If you are waiting for the moment where the people rise up and take it to their military oppressors, you’ll be waiting a long time as that doesn’t happen until the 90 minute mark and lasts all of five minutes.  Such delayed pathos doesn’t really help when you keep thinking something is about to go off.  For example, after Autrey is killed, I thought that Jean was going to go off. Instead she decides to just go back to work and then pack up after she gets fired.  Later she illegally reclaims his body and the military stomps down to his funeral pyre…to politely ask a soldier to point out who stole the body and then do nothing.  It is a film that just doesn’t seem to get going, which is a shame as there are lots of fertile ideas.  For example, Peter’s activist past is brought up and you get the feeling he was tortured, but the filmmakers never delve into it (or even continue on with his story once he is identified by the Government).  It definitely has a us-versus-them mentality, but sometimes things are a bit too on the nose (like when someone screams at the military guys “fuckin’ animals, fuckin’ terrorists!”).  I assume the script was partially improvised as the final screen credit goes to The Macau Collective.  What the film does do pretty well is creating this little town and the characters that inhabit it.  That might just be down to casting regular folks who play themselves, but that works well.  Another aspect where the film is really stunning is the widescreen cinematography by Sally Bongers.  Sadly, the VHS copy I watched is full screen.  To make it hurt even more, the tape opens with a widescreen trailer that showcases the film’s gorgeous look in capturing these desolate locations.

What is interesting is watching the film and trying to imagine it as a prequel to MAD MAX (1979).  When I looked at it that way, it was kind of interesting.  The George Miller universe is open to literally millions of pre-energy crisis stories and it isn’t hard to imagine a scenario like this going down in the lead up to Miller’s dystopian future.  Adding to that is the fact that Keays-Byrne cast several of his co-stars from MAD MAX (1979) in supporting roles.  This hits home the best when we have Vincent Gil – who co-starred in MAD MAX (1979) as The Nightrider – as a gun-happy mercenary named Bull.  It’s not hard (and kind of fun) to imagine this character as a pre-war version of (or maybe the father of) his earlier character, creating a scenario to show how he became the lawless gear-head.  At the same time, doing that is a complete disservice to this film as it is not an action packed spectacle like Miller’s films.  There is one chase scene and a couple of big stunts.  As it stands, it is for Mad Max fans curious about Keays-Byrne behind the camera and Aussie film completists only. Hey, wait, that is us (said in unison 3000 miles apart).

Moments of Clarity:

1 Reactions:

  1. Actually, Hugh Keays Byrne as you never wanted to see him was in Sir Les Patterson Saves the World where he plays an Arab policeman/BDSM transvestite who gets his nipple-tassells bloodily ripped off by Dame Edna Everage.

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