August 14, 2006

Oyster Farmer

Reviewer: James Van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***½

It often seems as if Australian filmmakers do something pretty odd for our digitalized, high-concept times: They put people first. The best Aussie writers and directors stock their films with characters who are rich and complex, funny and moving, and above all, real. Recent examples have included Two Hands, Little Fish, Peaches and Somersault. Now arrives Oyster Farmer as another--maybe the best--case in point. This first full-length movie from writer/director Anna Reeves is chock-a-block with wonderful characters (lusty and unembarrassed, among other traits), an exotic locale (the Hawkesbury River, outside of Sydney, where the locals farm oysters) and a surprisingly good story that combines a bit of crime and adventure with coming of age and romance. You may guess where things are going but the lovely time you have getting there more than makes up for a whiff of déjà vu.

The lead role of Jack Flange, very well-acted by newcomer Alex O'Loughlin, might once have been played by Jack Thompson. Some 30 years post-prime, Thompson now plays a grizzled old Vietnam vet who acts as surrogate father figure to Flange, and he's as good as ever. Everyone in the cast is terrific, in fact, as is the writing (that parses out its exposition bit by clever bit) and Reeves' keen direction. The film was deservedly nominated for several awards in its home country, among them cinematography. This is a gorgeous film to view - full of the rich detail of everyday life in this most interesting location - so it's all the more upsetting to find that the DVD transfer is just so-so: the beautiful long-distance shots are blurry when they ought to have been sharp. Despite this, however, Oyster Farmer is one splendid little movie.

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Posted by cphillips at August 14, 2006 10:45 AM | TrackBack