A movie about a mass murderer without a single on-screen homicide may leave American audiences – reared on the evening news and movies featuring buff action stars dispatching dozens of willing henchmen with the latest Hollywood approved fighting style – a little cold.
But an Australian effort that climbs inside the head of a local misfit in the years, weeks, and seconds before he launches the deadliest mass murder in the country’s history is infinitely more enthralling (for us, at least… as ever, see for yourself) as Justin Kurzel unveils “Nitram” – a film that attempts to answer the “why?” lingering in the air after every national paroxysm.
“Nitram” is a slow-burning character study, a lit fuse anyone familiar with the killings at Port Arthur, Tasmania can tell you it’s headed for – couched as it is in keeping with the national pledge not to mention the killer’s name. Even the title is an intentional mis-direction, a backward spelling of the gunman’s first name.
In it, we see Caleb Landry Jones in the title role, almost emulating the local surfer look but somehow – off – a man battling his own low IQ and demons. He moves from one failed outreach – jobs, girls, family – to the next, eventually running out of all potential paths to happiness and succumbing to the violent tendencies that drive him.
His grimly determined parents, played by Judy Davis and Anthony LaPaglia in notable roles, are routinely beaten down by life and eventually – as Nitram evolves into a powerful man-child – exhibit the bone-deep exhaustion that comes with a life spent not knowing if the person you’ve raised since birth is going to murder you while you sleep.
Nitram’s parents are caught off guard when he is accepted by a similarly exiled soul, a wealthy former actress named Helen (Essie Davis), who befriends him despite his fondness for weapons and fireworks and provides him with the money he’s never had. The pair become an odd couple, Helen buying him clothes and a car even though he doesn’t have a license and thinks its fun to grab the steering wheel when others are driving.
Eventually, all parties are pushed down their respective paths and ends and Nitram makes the decision he would make in April 1996, when he killed 35 people and wounded two dozen more – a national horror that lead to sweeping gun laws and left a population scarred to this day.
Where to See It: AppleTV, YouTube, Amazon, GooglePlay.