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Andrew S. Gilbert
True story that created headline news in 1959. A young aboriginal man Max Stuart, was convicted of murder in the light of questionable evidence presented, of nine year old Mary Hattam near Ceduna, on the south coast of Australia. International News Media Baron, Rupert Murdoch (played by Ben Mendelsohn), then publisher of the Adelaide "News," became the driving force behind securing a re-trial for Stuart. Written by
Noel Bailey <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A well put together movie featuring a classic underdog vs. establishment scenario...
Adelaide, Australia, 1958 and a 9 year-old girl is found brutally murdered and raped. The police quickly, perhaps a little too quickly, find a suspect: Max Stuart, a young illiterate and heavy drinking half-caste Aborigine man (Ngoombujarra CROCODILE DUNDEE IN L.A.) from out of town who, once in custody, confesses to the crime. As it's a legal aid case Stuart is appointed lawyers in the shape of local team Carlyle (THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, FULL MONTY) and Fox (THE GATHERING, THE POINT MEN). Prosecuting is arrogant, experienced and privileged-class Crown Solicitor Dance (ALIEN 3, LAST ACTION HERO). Stuart's story is that he is innocent and that the police beat the confession out of him, but faced with a bigoted community and the overwhelming skill and legal connections of Dance's character, the odds prove too overwhelming for the young, inexperienced duo.
Stuart is predictably found guilty and sentenced to be hanged.
Carlyle's character however does not give up that easily and, helped in his quest by the prison priest (Friels DARK CITY, THE MAN WHO SUED GOD) and a young newspaper publisher called Rupert Murdoch (Mendelsohn VERTICAL LIMIT), he continues to discover new evidence and witnesses, and proceeds through the hierarchy of appeal procedures, ultimately speaking before the Lord Privvy Council in London, resulting in seven stays of execution over the following year.
Based on real events, this is a well put together movie featuring a classic underdog vs. establishment scenario, not just in Stuart, who is regarded as just an ignorant savage by 1959 white Australian society, but also in Carlyle's lawyer who is thwarted at every turn by an archaic legal system and a superior foe, and who is risking his reputation and livelihood in the pursuit of justice. The film makes no final judgement and presents both sides of the case equally leaving the audience to come to their own verdict. The audience will of course take the side of the underdogs, but there is an unnerving dénouement where we catch up with the real Max Stuart who makes a very ambiguous comment on his innocence.
The era is well captured and the acting is solid throughout, though the characters are rather obviously drawn.
Not worth owning but well worth a watch.
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