A memorable film from Australia with superlative acting, writing and direction.
Australia's film community has given us the most admirable dramatic movies of this decade. It seems, these days, that only Australia is producing movies that address social issues within the context of family dramas. "Lantana" and "Romulus my Father," two of the best movies made since 2000, set high standards for combining societal concerns with effective domestic drama on screen.
"Under a Red Moon" now enters the same arena of superb film making established by "Lantana" and "Romulus." "Red Moon" is delivered by a cast and crew who are clearly at the top of their game. Though it deals with social problems within a family drama, "Red Moon" is no television movie of the week. It is superior, compassionate theatrical entertainment that provokes thought and invites discussion long after the credits have rolled. The movie examines the marriage of Jonathan and Anna Dunn, an established and high achieving couple who have lost their only son Luke to drug addiction.
Jonathan is an ambitious judge, who is willing to use personal tragedy both for his political gain and as fuel for his position favoring zero tolerance for drug users. He hides his grief over Luke behind his work and blatantly ignores a decaying home life, even to the point of refusing Anna's calls about their anniversary celebration. Anna retreats from grief into an endless cycle of house remodeling, shopping sprees, and spa treatments. She appears to be pampered and well maintained, but she actually medicates herself with pot and pain killers. She keeps Luke's room as he left it, a shrine to the family's happy days.
On the night of their nineteenth anniversary, the Dunns and their suburban home are invaded by burglars. Jonathan reacts with force and captures one of the intruders. The thief's conspirators return to the house for a rescue of their mate, and it is revealed that the burglars were friends of Luke. Are they busting into the home of the affluent Dunns for easy drug money? Or, are the thieves motivated by some desire of vengeance for Luke? The motives for the burglary become secondary as the night deepens under a lunar eclipse and revelations tear away at Jonathan and Anna.
As portrayed by Richard Norton, Jonathan decomposes physically and emotionally while the night ticks away. Both the personal and public consciences of this man must corrode. It took someone with Norton's acting skills and physicality to make Jonathan compelling rather than alienating. Norton succeeds brilliantly. He adds the twist to "Red Moon" that shakes the plot and reduces Jonathan from a superman to an everyman. When Norton collapses during a moment of painful memory about his relationship with Luke, he is channeling a broken family man, emotionally and physically. The meltdown is unforgettable, thanks to the work of this talented actor whose list of achievements in the global film community is already significant. "Under the Red Moon" adds another major milestone to the career of Richard Norton.
Anna is played by Jane Badler, a terrific actress who reprises her chemistry with Norton from their first film together: "Under the Gun." Like Norton, Badler does not hold back on either the emotional or physical demands of her role as Anna. Her grief is painfully unresolved and never will be eliminated. Badler depicts the gamut of her character's emotions with a depth that makes her both sympathetic and perplexing, the proper mix for any mother teetering on the brink of several edges after the loss of her only child.
A political ally says to Jonathan shortly after the movie opens, "Just when you've got your finger on the pulse, it stops. " True to that statement, "Under a Red Moon" is filled with ambiguities and gray answers to the debates it raises. To its credit, the ending of the movie is also ambiguous; neither the audience nor the film's characters are freed entirely from the tensions of the plot. There is no tidy "closure" here. The conclusion of the movie keeps important questions on the table.
It is a privilege to see "Under a Red Moon" at early screenings. Besides the work of Norton, Badler and the ensemble cast, including Ditch Davey as one of the burglars, the powerful effect of "Under a Red Moon" can be credited to the direction and screenplay of Leigh Sheehan. They have created another movie to add to Australia's pantheon of cinematic social dramas that conjure memorable impacts. Most importantly, it is the memory of the remarkable performances within "Under a Red Moon" that will be a lasting one.
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