Cannes 2011 Review: SNOWTOWN

Chase Whale

by: Chase Whale
May 24th, 2011

Rating: 4/5

Director: Justin Kurzel
Writers: Justin Kurzel (story), Shaun Grant (story and screenplay)
Cast: Daniel HenshallLucas PittawayCraig Coyne

Australian films have a large spot in my heart. This came about last year when I fell in love with THE LOVED ONES, RED HILL, HESHER, ANIMAL KINGDOM, and THE SQUARE - all Ozzie cinema. There's just something about filthy revenge stories that captures my full attention. Just a few days ago I saw a new Outback Film, Justin Kurzel's SNOWTOWN, which carries the recently popular Ozzie trend - revenge. SNOWTOWN is a disturbing and at times very hard to watch, but it's fueled with rich acting and excellent storytelling.

SNOWTOWN takes place in Snowtown, South Australia and is based on the true story of Australia’s most notorious killer to date, John Bunting. Our central character is Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway), one of three brothers who is sexually molested by his trusting neighbor. They live in an area of Australia where you can get out on bail the same day for being a pedophile, but good luck finding a job if you're caught stealing. When their mother finds out, she calls in Bunting (Daniel Henshall in a marvelous performance) to help her rid the neighbor from the neighborhood. What she didn't know is Bunting didn't have heckling revenge on his mind - he, along with Jamie, would go on a Pedophile vigilante killing spree, which becomes and unsettling chain reaction of violence.

SNOWTOWN was co-written and directed by Justin Kurzell, which marks his first feature. This is a film that needs a director who understands the story of the Snowtown murders and why they happened – nobody wants a pedophile to get off (no pun intended) a free man. Kurzell understands the difficult subject matter, and tells the story in a brave and daring manner. It's not an easy one to make; what started as a story of justice ended up being a story of self-righteousness, killing people he chose, who were gay and obese - anyone he just did not like. Henshall's take on Bunting is nothing short of creepy brilliance. He takes Jamie under his wing - like a father Jamie never had - manipulating and confusing Jamie. Jamie's not sure to love him or stay far, far away from him.

SNOWTOWN marks Pittaway's first credited acting performance and I do not think it will be his last. Channeling ANIMAL KINGDOM's Joshua "J" Cody (James Frecheville), Pittaway's Jamie is quiet, reserved, and often unable to control his path in life. Unlike J, things do not get better for Jamie; in fact, they get far, far worse. Jamie is a character that needs an actor who can look emotionally unstable throughout the majority of the film and Pittaway nails it. We often want to someone, anyone, to get this young man out of the life he's be born into, but seeing how helpless he is himself, the sympathy fades as the movie carries on.

I did not know this film was based on a true story until the closing credits, which makes this story so much more terrifying. Kurzel crafted a raw feel to that story; and as brutal as the film is, I will be visiting SNOWTOWN again.

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