February 5, 2019 West of Sunshine (Movie Review)
Opening theatrically January 18th, and releasing on VOD January 22nd via Uncork’d Entertainment, West of Sunshine is an Aussie crime Thriller that got favorable reviews and a standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival. Not a bad day’s work from writer/director Jason Raftopoulos (Ghost Rider 2007, From Dope to Dalai Lama 2010), especially when it is his feature-length debut. Filmink even said it was a “nigh-perfect slice of inner-city Australian cinema.” While others have said it may stand alongside Aussie film classics like 2000’s Chopper. But is it really that good?
The film is about Jim (Damian Hill: Pawno 2015, The Leftovers 2017), a man addicted to gambling and, as a result, owes a lot of money to some dangerous people. He has less than a day to repay one particularly violent loan shark called Banos (Tony Nikolakopoulos: Kangaroo Jack 2003, Pirate Islands: The Lost Treasure of Fiji 2007). That would be bad enough, but he also has to look after his young son Alex (Ty Perham) for the day too. No matter what he thinks up, he is unable to get the money to pay the loan back. With his one last play, he is left with one choice; stay stuck to his past or get a second chance at life.
Does that make it an Aussie version of 1980’s Shogun Assassin? (aka Lone Wolf & Cub) or 2002’s Road to Perdition? Not quite. It is not a rip-roaring action fest with childcare amidst the carnage. It is more like one layer of drama going over another. There is the central plot of Jim trying to connect with his son, while also trying to pay off the loan shark. But it also shows Jim’s estranged relationship with his ex-wife (Fay Smythe: Legend of the Seeker 2010, Love Birds 2011), his burgeoning relationship with his friend Jenny (Eliza D’Souza: The Journey 2014, The Rare Earth 2015), and gambling with his friend Steve (Arthur Angel: Red Dog 2011, Upgrade 2018) alongside the other cast of characters.
The film does not go for flashy aesthetics either. That is not to say it does not have memorable cinematography, as it tells plenty through its shots. Be it a car-window eye’s view of the city passing by as Jim goes from place to place, or its deft use of close-ups to show Jim’s conflicted feelings. Its sound design also offers plenty, building up one mood through its rising swells, before bringing in unease through its haunting strings. Its tone is soberer than the Tarantino-esque looks of, say, 2018’s The Queen of Hollywood Blvd.
Not to mention it is backed up with some very solid performances. Hill expresses a conflicting swirl of emotions without being over or under the top. He hits the beats of frustration, desperation, joy and sorrow very well, putting in a convincing job. Perham puts in a strong effort too, especially for his film debut. Many child stars come off stiff because they have yet to build up experience but building up experience means getting older and thus not being a child anymore (compared the early Harry Potter films to the last ones). Yet Perham does not suffer from clunky delivery or expressions. He comes off as a believable kid frustrated by his family situation, and with his relationship with his dad.
Perham and Hill have good chemistry too, as they really make the film shine. They form the solid crux that every other strand connects to. Not that the other actors are worse. Their appearances are brief in comparison, but Angel, Smythe, D’Souza and company hold their own without any trouble. They add some fine seasoning to the proceedings, coming off as people than just characters written into a script.
Not to sound all Top Gear, but if this film was a food dish, it would be the kind Gordon Ramsay and other TV chefs die for. West of Sunshine is a grand piece of pure and simple filmmaking. No complex choreography, nor flashy special effects. Just solid, effectively written drama with complex, convincing characters.
West of Sunshine offers plenty to talk about and examine within its layers, without bogging down the pacing or feeling like it is padding out its runtime. It has a svelte running time by today’s standards- 1 hour and 20 minutes. However, it does not waste a minute of its time or the audiences. Give it a watch while you can, and Cryptic Rock give it 5 out of 5 stars.