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Jack Flange leaves the big city for a respite in Australia's Hawkesbury River region, where generations of oyster fishermen (and maybe one woman) have made a living, built histories, and piled up grievances. Jack finds a small-town mentality, with pluses and minuses. There's also a recent burglary and lots of missing cash. Jack gets a job oystering; his boss is separated from a woman of invention, Jack's attracted to a chambermaid turned letter carrier, and there are plenty of mine fields for a city boy to step through. Jack also has a sister, who's ill, to worry about. It's a river journey of self discovery. Is he passing through, or has he found home? Written by
A Leisurely Ride Along A Beautul River with Colorful, Lusty Characters
"Oyster Farmer" is a warm, refreshing, Australian take on the old-fashioned genre of the secretive, hunky stranger with a murky past shaking up a small community.
Alex O'Lachlan in his notable debut as "Jack Flange" is very much like William Holden in "Picnic" and Paul Newman in "The Long Hot Summer." While debut writer/director Anna Reeves certainly appreciates his visual and visceral assets, his character's mysteriously tattooed masculinity is a Sensitive New Age Guy metrosexual compared to the hard-working blokes along the mangroves of the isolated Hawkesbury River north of Sydney, which looks a lot like the bayou country of Louisiana that has been similarly used for sultry effect in movies like "The Big Easy."
While it's a bit confusing at first to sort out the relationships (let alone the basics of oyster farming), partly due to the accents, in this tight and quirky Brooklyn where everyone knows generations of everybody's paternity, marital disputes, personal business, and, particularly for the plot, their mail, the gradual revelations add to our enjoyment of the comfortable repartee as we are thrust into the ongoing squabbles along with the outsider and learn to appreciate this fading lifestyle as it becomes his home despite his suspicions and other plans.
Jim Norton as a Granddad with an Irish gift of gab is particularly entertaining as he goads his stubborn wirey son, an appealing David Field, to make up with his wife, who has the more successful touch as an oyster farmer.
Women in this macho environment have to not only be tough, but resilient as they find ways to still assert their femininity. Diana Glenn's "Pearl" seems perfectly adapted to the local way of life-- her hitchhiking up the river is a wonderful detail even as she has "Sex and the City" proclivities --though her flirtation with "Jack" is only frankly lusty. Kerry Armstrong is a marvelous matriarch, but her character's level-headedness reduces opportunities for jealousy, as the script opts for humor over tension.
Jack Thompson has a small local color role, but key as he becomes an anchoring father figure for the restless "Jack" as we see him grow new roots.
The national park scenery and Alun Bollinger's cinematography are breathtakingly beautiful and that waterfront train looks like a delightful ride, though a bit more geographical context would have been helpful.
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