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As a former resident of Adelaide, I can recall the actual events portrayed
in the film (and knew the film's director at university - Adelaide is like
that .... a very small place).
It is a restrained and accurate rendition of the sorry episode. Notable in that it captures the atmosphere of the old 'colonial' Adelaide I knew ..... the 'precious' social 'pecking order', smotheringly conservative (repressed?), 'stiff upper lip' ... and the smugness of being the only 'free colony' in Australia (with the imported English social structure this brought with it).
The crafty and cynical state Premier, managing the political fallout, the ambitious newspaper publisher, just starting out on his quest which will lead him eventually to world media 'mega-stardom', who uses the case to build his paper. The honest (and suffering, 'doomed') defence attorney..... and worldly-wise assistant, the innocent(?) accused, the bungling and prejudiced police, the aristocratic crown prosecutor ..... the naive (and sadly too honest) newspaper editor (a survivor of 5 years in the infamous WW2 Changi concentration camp) whose career is ruined when he is 'cut free' by his publisher under the political heat generated by the case and the paper's crusade (initially supported by the publisher who subsequently caves in to the politicians). A great recipe for a political-legal drama.
The tale is well handled by director Lahiff, well paced, understated, cautious ..... but leaving the viewer convinced that 'something stinks in the state of SA'. A lesson on the realities of politics and the exercise of power .....
Well done Craig! Your film deserves more attention than it has received.... (I am waiting its release on DVD so I can add it to my collection, along with the also under-rated and potential 'cult' film, 'Heavens Burning' filmed with Russell Crowe, on the cusp of his meteoric rise to super-stardom.)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It was 1958 in South Australia and the British influence was still very
strong. Dark native people were treated as an inferior species. The
whites often referred to them with the now shunned "N" word. Men in
law, law enforcement, and politics were white and arrogant.
So, when a 9 year old girl was found near the beach, raped and murdered, the white aristocracy quickly placed the blame on 20-something Fun Festival worker, Max Stuart, played well by Australian native David Ngoombujarra. A relatively quick trial convicted him and he was headed for a hanging.
What's this movie really about? It is about a young lawyer trying to find justice at a very high personal cost. It is about arrogant politicians trying to control the situation to their preferred outcome. It is about the power of the newspaper and their reporters, digging to try to find the true story and to rally the people with bold headlines.
Robert Carlyle is the young, inexperienced lawyer David O'Sullivan, assigned to defend Max without funds to do so properly. His nemesis is Roderic Chamberlain (Charles Dance) who is in with the political machine and slated, he hoped, for a Chief Justice promotion.
SPOILERS. David never was successful in the courts of law. Not that he didn't try, but the deck was always stacked against him. The whole conviction was based on a confession that Max supposedly gave, but a linguistics expert testified later that he could not possibly have expressed himself in the way it was written. Max was saved from hanging by the Prime Minister, for political reasons, tired of the ruckus the people were making. Max served 14 years and, to this day (much like OJ Simpson) hopes to find the real killer. That is not to imply at all that Max is really guilty, but he served his time and is now a free man. The DVD has an interesting 6-minute interview with Max, taped in 2002.
Black and White captures the essence of South Australia in the 1960's. Parochial, racially insensitive, a stuffy English "aristocracy" and the overtones of the hidden menace in Adelaide, are all revealed in this movie. It is hard not to watch this film and not feel anger at the injustice of it all. The camera work was great and attention to detail, costumes and cars, was noticeable because it wasn't noticeable. Having a "big name" (Carlyle) to play the lead didn't add anything to the film. It was hard to feel any compassion for the lead character which, given the sacrifices and stress he endured, was disappointing. He felt detached and uninvolved. Outstanding performances by Nagoombujarra, Charles Dance and Colin Friels lifted this film where it might easily have lapsed into caricature and stereotype. The arrival of Rupert Murdoch into the scene was nicely underplayed and added an element of reality. Enjoyable, provocative and a slice of history. Well worth a watch.
You'd never know it going by the supposed exuberance of the Australian
character, but our movies are some of the most restrained and
thought-provoking out there. Even our action films are a far cry from
Hollywood counterparts. Put that down to whatever you like - perhaps it's
our inability (on the whole) to take ourselves seriously. You could even
the sparseness depicted in our films is a reflection of our
Questionable character stereotypes aside, Black & White *is* your Archetypal Australian film - reserved, unintrusive (in terms of technique - soundtrack for instance - the story itself is another matter), rather slow-paced.
90% of the reviews I've read have been positive, if not raving. A minority have commented on the apparent detachment and lack of interest shown by the actors - especially Robert Carlyle, a "big name" overseas actor brought in (you might believe) to boost the film's stocks. How much of that attitude would be Cultural Cringe, though - a cynicism brought about by an insecurity over our significance and standing in the world at large. Forget *who* he is, maybe he was actually perfect for the part. He certainly expressed an enthusiasm for the script, role and true story when interviewed - who is anyone to doubt his word.
Anyway, regarding the apparent detachment and lack of interest; what you have to understand about this part of the world (South Australia), is that it is a rather sleepy, seemingly relaxed place. As far as Australians go, South Australians/Adelaideans are more typical of our films than our supposed national character - reserved, restrained, you might even say repressed (*I'd* definately say repressed). So, perhaps it would be beneficial to interpret the portrayal of the characters in this film as accurate and thoughtful, rather than disinterested.
Repressed is the key word. Adelaide is not just known as sleepy and relaxed. It's also commonly known as the serial murder capital of Australia (I don't know how accurate that is), and also as being rather haunted and Gothic ("City of Churches"). We have skeletons in our closets - this story relates one of them.
Spooky, isn't it?
David Ngoombujarra puts his all into his performance, and it shows. His is a stand out. Black & White seems to only be known of by about a handful of people outside South Australia. Which is a pity.
Deserves to be seen. 9/10.
South Australian lawyers still argue passionately about the guilt or
innocence or Rupert Maxwell Stuart.
A young white girl was brutally raped and murdered.
A part-Aboriginal man was accused. He was drunk (and, by admission, lust filled) at the time the offence occurred.
At the time, the commission of such an offence would have seen Stuart swinging at the end of a rope.
Enter Robert Carlile (playing David O'Sullivan) and Kery Fox (Helen Devaney) his impoverished lawyers, passionate, and alcoholic respectively.
This is the story of how this unlikely (and tragic, for O'Sullivan and Fox, in real life, self-destructed soon afterwards) worked day and night to save Stuart from the gallows.
Instrumental in this was the young Rupert Murdoch (Ben Mendelson) and the Priest Father Tom Dixon.
The point of all this is not Stuart's guilt or innocence. It is about O'Sullivan and Fox, and their 15 minutes of fame. It is about Murdoch, and the ways in which the press influences criminal justice (there were two South Australian hangings after the Stuart case), reported, by Murdoch's "The News" in sober and pro-government terms.
For those reasons, as an examination of long ago attitudes, and of issues of press influence, this is an important film.
A great movie? Probably not? Consider the following. When Murdoch sits down with the defence team to discuss his proposed press campaign for a reprieve, and is told that if the public will not warm to Stuart's case and Murdoch will not personally intervene, "a man will die".
Murdoch replies, "then a man will die!".
This not a movie about Stuart and Chamberlain; it's about O'Sullivan, Cox, Murdoch and the media. It's about hard-working lawyers and cynical Newspapermen. And on that level, it succeeds.
The world of the movie is one of the few areas where Australians care to face up to their unjust and brutal treatment of the Aboriginie. This movie is based on a disturbingly recent true story and is brilliantly understated. One never feels one knows what really happened, but the legal processes are a shocking inditment of racial prejudice and power politics. Even today Australia still struggles to come to grips with this shameful side of their past. Black and White should be seen in every Australian household as similar events almost certainly still go on today in the far flung reaches of this vast land mass. Highly recommended. (Available on dvd in Australia.)
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.
I came across this one accidentally, and I'm very glad that I did. This
is very much an attempt to make an historical document - it is along
the same lines as rabbit proof fence, instead focusing on the
ridiculously prejudiced and stunted legal system that Australia was so
proud of during the 'white Australia' policy years. Every branch of
police and court were determined to hide each others mistakes and
inequalities because it was simply easier to condemn our own mistakes -
if it is believed that all black fellas are inherently flawed, even
evil, then it is so much easier to not feel guilty about what we did.
That being said, the production values are so high in this film that one never gets the sense that it is preaching or unnecessarily hammering the audience with the all the guilt of the white man in Australia. The story came through sufficiently, and there were fascinating links to all kinds of branches of Australian life - the turn of public opinion against the death penalty, Rupert Murdoch learning the value of politics over helping out the ordinary man, the idea of 'Englishness' in the colonial nation - and best of all, a wonderful interview with the condemned man himself, still alive despite all the odds.
A half-caste aborigine in 1950s Australia is sentenced to death on little more than racist supposition over the rape and murder of a young girl. Penniless and inexperienced good-guy lawyers, Robert Carlyle and Kerry Fox, go up against the system to save the man's neck from the gallows. David Ngoombujarra, as the half-caste, turns in a moving performance, the story has sufficient emotional pace, legal twists and unusual setting, yet for some reason manages to peter down like a wet squib. The climax doesn't seem to do the rest of the film justice, and the reminder that it is based on true events comes too late (at the very end of the credits) to have the proper impact. Black and White is an interesting film, but more of a near miss than a resounding success.
It tries this film but ultimately it does not live up to the expectations that are on it. Despite some very good actors it gets bogged down in a slow script. It contains important issues but unfortunately the director cant really deliver
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