By Adam Ray Palmer
The first film on my Glasgow Film Festival checklist was one I have been waiting to see for the best part of a year.
Justin Kurzel is one of my favourite working directors today, and the story of Nitram is one that is as controversial as they come – so I was intrigued to see how this would be handled by Justin’s mastery. Let’s discuss…
Starring an array of talent including Caleb Landry-Jones, Judy Davis, Essie Davis and Anthony LaPaglia; Nitram (the movie) details the events on the run up to the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre in Tasmania. Kurzel’s film runs at nearly two hours, with 90% of it focusing solely on the man behind the heinous mid-90s act that is already well documented.
‘Nitram’ (Calen Landry-Jones) lives with his mother (Judy Davis) and father (LaPaglia) in suburban Tasmania. He lives a life of constant isolation, frustration, and the inability to fit in with anyone and anywhere. When he meets an eccentric heiress (Essie Davis) with whom he strikes up an expected friendship, Nitram’s fortunes looks set to improve. However, when that relationship hits a tragic end, Nitram’s bitter loneliness and anger bites with a vengeance that culminates in the most extreme and darkest nightmares imaginable.
Nitram (the film) is another thought-provoking achievement from Kurzel. He is no stranger to trying and telling movies with a back catalogue including True History of the Kelly Gang in 2019 and his most controversial film in Snowtown from 2011 - Nitram continues that trend. His talent has always lied in being able to showcase the heart-breaking and emotional gut punch that these stories leave you with, but in a cinematic, and in my opinion, a necessary way.
Kurzel’s Nitram is unsensational – which is extremely important to not glorify the atrocities, but detail how we possibly might have got there. Justin has made this film with moral integrity, trying to explain through his filmmaking what led to the inhumane act in the most humanly terms possible. The film is littered with evil themes throughout, but it’s the ‘why’ in which Kurzel is seeking to tell here.
Alongside Kurzel’s careful consideration when making this film, Caleb Landry-Jones also had a huge role to play when portraying “Nitram”. He must play his role as a true reflection on the man, but also with the thoughtfulness of the victims. His intense performance is truly haunting, fuelling this barbaric idea of how a human could commit these crimes and be so far removed from society’s norms and morals.
Throughout the film and Jones’ electrifying performance, you can see just how unhinged Nitram is and how someone else’s pain brought him inner delight - his frustrating solitude would be the turning point from just thinking his delusional thoughts to acting upon them. Caleb’s performance will definitely put the spotlight on him, amassing fresh admiration for his craft.
As a whole, Justin Kurzel’s disturbing but riveting dramatisation of events is worth your attention. Whilst many have expressed their concern for the film’s existence, the way in which the story is told is compelling, nuanced and delivered by a quartet of astonishing performances. When taking on a film like this with a complex and harrowing tale, it needs to be handled with delicacy and justly. I feel Justin did this and refused to go to the grotesque details as that never needs to be re-lived.
Whilst this is a tough piece of cinema, it shows yet again just how good a filmmaker Justin Kurzel is. Along with Landry-Jones; the duo have declared themselves as talented individuals in their respective fields. The brilliance in this film is the gut-wrenching accumulation of events from a problematic boy to the final sequence. And as great as the film is, the aforementioned build up is also what leaves the difficult lasting impression.
Cineroom’s rating: 4.5 stars
Nitram premieres at the 2022 Glasgow Film Festival on Saturday 5th March – certificate 15