Sweet Country review: Director Warwick Thornton shines a spotlight on his Aboriginal heritage in this tense Australian Western.

Sweet Country review by Jazmine Sky Bradley, February 2018.

Sweet Country review
Sweet Country review

Warwick Thornton –¬†the Australian director best known for 2009’s critically acclaimed¬†Samson and Delilah –¬†is back, returning to his Indigenous roots with Western drama Sweet Country.

The Australian outback, 1920s. Fred Smith (Sam Neill) runs a small plot of farmland, with the help of Sam (Hamilton Morris), an Aboriginal man, and his wife. When ex-soldier Harry March (Ewen Leslie) moves in nearby, Sam is enlisted to help Harry fix up his land. However, on arrival Sam realises that Harry’s cheery neighbour demeanour is a cover for a mentally scarred, dangerously violent racist.

Quickly escaping home, things turn sour when Fred travels to town and Harry comes banging on the door – with dire consequences. Now on the run, Sam must use his survival tactics to traverse the gruelling Australian desert, with the local police sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) on his tail.

Related: New trailer arrives for Australian drama ‘Sweet Country’

With a background in cinematography, Thorton’s eye for landscape is clear throughout, with the Outback itself becoming a character alongside Fred, Sam, Harry and Fletcher. Sweeping establishing shots of miles of sand, bare trees, and unrelenting sunshine, you can feel the heat pulsating through the screen, enveloping the characters and heightening the tension. Conversely, it’s only when we see Sam out in the open, building fires and caring for his wife, that the heat feels manageable – we’re watching someone who’s capable, able to cope, and we’re rooting for him.

Sweet Country review
Sweet Country review

That’s the real feeling of Sweet Country, a film of two halves. From the off, we’re pulled between the characters, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’, in true Western style. God-fearing Fred, quiet Sam, intimidating Harry, proud Fletcher; the choice is obvious, but will the 1920s Australian justice system agree?

While the performances are strong and the story is an important one, the film’s incredibly slow pacing doesn’t quite work. I understand that a slower pace gives the audience a chance to appreciate the beautiful scenery and absorb the increase in tension, but at the cost of attention? It’s a real shame.

While the film doesn’t break any new ground or subvert Western genre stereotypes, it’s fulfilling to see Thornton bring to life a story focusing on his Indigenous background, giving a voice to those we rarely see on film. Sweet Country is a strong attempt at telling an untold story, that will hopefully open the eyes and minds of audiences.

Sweet Country review by Jazmine Sky Bradley, February 2018.

Sweet Country is released in UK cinemas on Friday 9th March 2018.

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Sweet Country