Black and White (2002) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
11 Reviews
Sort by:
A stunningly good movie, based on real events.
TxMike13 November 2006
Warning: 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.
11 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
An interesting piece of history
Bob Warn (realbobwarn)26 December 2003
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.)
20 out of 22 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Evocative recreation of 1960's Australian cultural confusion
gemstones25 April 2003
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.
11 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A Provocative Australian Period Piece
kinnordavid1 November 2005
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.
7 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A well put together movie featuring a classic underdog vs. establishment scenario...
quatermax-18 February 2008
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.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A harsh reminder of what still lies under the surface
rokhopa7 February 2004
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.)
6 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
excellent production values
meredithconnie16 September 2007
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.

Highly recommended.
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
More of a near miss than a resounding success
Chris_Docker20 January 2004
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.
4 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
This story deserves a better treatment
yelofneb-6303730 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
May include spoilers:

I agree with a previous reviewer that the talents of a whole bunch of brilliant true actors were not displayed nearly as well as they should have been. There are various points where passionate stances are rendered in a manner that makes one wonder about the director's choice as to which take should have been submitted to the editor.

Charles Dance's performance was, as always, impeccable, which, unfortunately, lead to a perceptible imbalance when the chosen takes revealed that both Robert Carlyle and Kerry Fox, though both are accomplished actors with resumees that are ample proof of their ability, simply were not delivering their best.

For anyone with experience of life in Australia, it's an important story in the history of judicial fair treatment but this movie comes across as only a half effort to be true to its inspiration. It's as if the director had lost interest at various points along the way.

In the best of all cinematic worlds, another go at this, with all of the original actors and a new director--especially one who might have known the late Craig Lahiff, who I'm sure had the best of all intentions--would be a blessing to do justice to a far more significant event in Australia's history than this version represents.

There are issues here that deserve far more respectful treatment. Alone the idea of Rupert Murdoch as a white knight in service of justice for the underdog is such an explosive irony, not to mention that an immigrant solicitor manages to have a case heard by the British Privy Council, and on rejection, yet again by a Royal Commission. Please, same cast, new director.

Just to see what I mean, watch this movie.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Not very realistic
shirlty5611 January 2004
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
1 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews