High Tide (1987) Poster


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The powerful Judy Davis
Oblomov_814 February 2003
There are very few performers today who can keep me captivated throughout an entire film just by their presence. One of those few is Judy Davis, who has built a successful career out of creating characters that are headstrong in attitude but very vulnerable at heart. She takes roles that most other performers would treat melodramatically and adds a fiery, deeply emotional intensity that pulls attention away from everything else on the screen.

Her skills are well displayed in "High Tide," a film that matches her up a second time with director Gillian Armstrong, who gave Davis her first major success with "My Brilliant Career." In that film, Davis played a young woman who was determined to make it in the world, despite the suffocation she felt from her community and upbringing. In "High Tide," however, Davis' character, Lillie, is roughly the opposite: she gave up on any hope for her future when she was young, and, after giving birth to a child, runs from her responsibilities and takes up a life without direction or meaning. When she finally meets up with her daughter years later, the thought of taking care of her child is petrifying; she knows this is her chance to atone for her failures, but how can she be honest with her daughter and still gain her respect?

Gillian Armstrong's films usually relate stories about characters who desperately want to communicate with each other, but face obstacles set up by their own personal habits and addictions. "Oscar and Lucinda," for instance, was about a man and a woman who desperately needed each other's love but were always blindsided by their craving for chance, represented by their gambling addictions. Here, we are immersed in the world of a family torn apart by the mother's inability to commit to a settled life and her struggles to redeem herself despite being fully convinced that it's too late to change for the better. This is not simply a film with a great performance at its center, but also a rare achievement: a fully convincing story of redemption.
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An Undeservedly Obscure Gem
gbtbag3 September 2001
"High Tide" is one of the greatest movies most people haven't seen. If you just read a plot summary, the story may seem unbelievable. But thanks to writing, acting, directing and music scoring of the highest caliber, this film works on every level. According to director Gillian Armstrong, the role played by Judy Davis was originally written for a man. But Armstrong's husband suggested rewriting it for a woman. Davis gives one of her best performances in "High Tide," and that's saying something for such an accomplished actress. Physically she is a very mannered performer, reminiscent of such great actresses of the 1930s and '40s as Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. But Davis is also incredibly subtle. Just watch her face and you can see every thought process, every emotion. Davis' performance was helped tremendously by Gillian Armstrong, who is not afraid of lingering on a closeup way beyond when lesser directors would have cut away. It's one of her greatest strengths as a director. She allows a scene to play out. Nothing is rushed so everything unfolds naturally, helps add to the realism of "High Tide." (She does the same thing in "The Last Days of Chez Nous," another of her best efforts.) This is a movie to be cherished. It's an object lesson to mainstream Hollywood on how to turn what could have been a sappy, cliched movie into a moving work of art.
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Little-known treasure
iamlarsx27 February 2001
This is one film I am always recommending to friends looking for something "different" to see. On paper it sounds like one of those 1940's "women's pictures" but in execution it is something really special and beautiful. Gillian Armstrong adds real texture and symbolic heft to the simple story--those speeding-camera shots of the water are wonderful!--and is aided by a sublime cast. Judy Davis gives what is, for my money, quite possibly the greatest performance ever captured on film. She has two scenes in particular--the initial confrontation with her ex-mother-in-law, and a lengthy conversation in a parked car with her daughter where she tries to explain and make sense of her life--that are just extraordinary. This is acting of the highest order and, like the film itself, rises above its meager melodramatic roots.
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What you've not seen, but longed for...
Steve Skafte9 October 2008
There's a certain allure I've always found in discovering the great unknown film. These discoveries have nearly always been dramatic stories. In my experience, unknown sci-fi, action and horror are unknown for very, very good reasons. I found "High Tide" on video at a junk store, mixed in amongst countless dozens of tapes of varying quality. Of course, that's the only place I would find it, as it is still not on DVD.

While I was watching Judy Davis (as Lillie) throughout the course of this film, I was certain I was watching a great undiscovered performance. I had previously seen Davis in several small parts - and one starring role in "A Passage to India". But, although she was great in that film, "High Tide" is a different animal entirely. Judy Davis' performance is stunning, I cannot say enough good things about it. She shares an amazing on-screen relationship with young Claudia Karvan (as Ally), this film's other great actress. There's a lot of drama and quiet humanity they share together, the details of which I won't reveal here (see it for yourself!).

There's too much good in "High Tide" to cover in one review, but the film speaks well enough for itself. Laura Jones writes stunning dialogue, beautiful words for the mouths of real people. Gillian Armstrong directs her actors toward a growing, powerful honesty. She turns everyday things into powerful, human depictions. I felt so alive and changed by the story this film tells. It's a weightless and strong depiction of running and staying put. You're welcome to make a choice.
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so good its breathtaking
Diron46215 May 2002
High Tide an emotional rollercoaster that leaves you satisfied. Judy Davis is pure genuis in this role.A back up singer fired from her job ,her car breaks down .She trying to get back on the road when see meets her daughter that she gave away long ago.Now the life she was living she wants to change now.
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I liked it.
BUDDY-1922 June 2000
Yeah, it's a chick flick and it moves kinda slow, but it's actually pretty good - and I consider myself a manly man. You gotta love Judy Davis, no matter what she's in, and the girl who plays her daughter gives a natural, convincing performance.

The scenery of the small, coastal summer spot is beautiful and plays well with the major theme of the movie. The unknown (at least unknown to me) actors and actresses lend a realism to the movie that draws you in and keeps your attention. Overall, I give it an 8/10. Go see it.
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Judy Davis' greatest performance
jcrawford-1529 March 2007
This film, though, critically acclaimed, has of course not yet been released in the U.S. on DVD, like another great - Christine Lahti's "Housekeeping", out the same year. But if you can support Region 4 (Australian) DVD's, this little masterpiece should be in your collection. There are still some VHS copies available on the internet as well.Davis is complemented by a great story, as well as memorable performances from her supporting cast, especially Claudia Carvan and the late, great Jan Adele. Amazingly, or maybe not, this film and its stars went unacknowledged at Academy Awards time, as did "Housekeeping", but treat yourself to both of them - you will be glad you did!
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wonderfully acted and directed story of people caught in real-life drama
HairynosedWombat11 December 1998
This is not the stuff of soap-operas but the sort of conundrums that real people face in real life. A testament to the ensemble and director for the powerful story-telling of fallible characters trying to cope but not quite succeeding.
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Surprisingly powerful film
whatalovelypark8 April 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This is a film about a back-up singer to an Elvis impersonator spending some time in a small Australian town. Yet it's really a movie about a woman finding her daughter given away in infancy to an older relative.

Judy Davis is her spontaneous self, and perhaps a bit too worldly to be related to the others in the film, but she adds a vital zest and unpredictability to the film, the kind that made her a major actor. Claudia Karvan is quite brilliant as the young girl, and comes across as entirely natural. Jan Adele, the grandmother, who fears her granddaughter being taken away, is also excellent.

The music is terrible, and some of the scenes are awkward (particularly the ending), but as a study of relationships it's surprisingly good. Some parts are very moving.
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worth a look despite the awkward screenplay
Michael Neumann27 November 2010
Judy Davis stars as a backup singer to an Elvis Presley impersonator, who after being sacked by the imitation Man From Memphis rents a seaside trailer home by sheer chance right next door to the teenage daughter she abandoned as a baby. Once past that massive coincidence the story settles into a promising drama about a young girl's dawning awareness of her own identity, but the script reads too often like the unembellished daydreams of an adolescent orphan, wavering between sensitivity and self pity, and what should have been the emotional high points are smothered under some of the most portentous music in recent memory. In the end the scenario doesn't fully deliver on its potential, but scene for scene the film is certainly worth watching, and the characters are all rendered with sympathy, even in their less flattering moments. It may not represent a step forward in the careers of either Davis or director Gillian Armstrong, but it's nevertheless encouraging to still see movies being made Down Under that don't look like they've been produced by the Australian Tourist Council.
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Complex character drama with a brilliant performance by Davis
a_chinn19 July 2017
Quite good Australian film about Judy Davis as a back-up singer for an Elvis impersonator stopping off in a small town only to befriend a local teenage tomboy who ends up being the daughter she gave up as a baby after the father had died. Written and directed by Gillian Armstrong, this is a smart character driven drama with a complex performance by Davis. Her character could easily have been a simply villainous character who eventually seeks redemption, but Armstrong and Davis make her character more complex than that. She's not just someone who gave up a child, but who may have actually done it for good reason for herself and the child, though that also may have been self rationalizing. It's that non-black and white presentation of the situation that makes this film so interesting. Claudia Karvan as the teenage daughter also gives a strong performance and is an equally well drawn, well rounded character by Armstrong, who is more than just a character simply wanting to know why she was abandoned. On the downside, I think the film was populated by too many colorful supporting, who were certainly entertaining, but who took away from the primary story. There's also the main contrivance of the plot the entire film centers upon, but let's not go there. Despite these minor quibbles, "High Tide" is a terrifically smart and engaging character drama.
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This tide really rises in one of 87's best.
PeterMitchell-506-56436413 December 2012
This is one of those fine Aussie films that come along every so often, that we're truly blessed to see it. Real characters, real people, just like some of the good and great actors in this film, convincingly present. I must admit, I'm not really into tear jerker movies, and though this didn't make me cry, it made me recall memories of what it was like to be a teen. Another promising star was unleashed. Claudia Karvan, in her first film, was good, and her acting improved, years on, but still here, she was pretty good. A deserted child living with her grandmother in a caravan park in Eden, a bombshell arrives in the form of the deserted mother, Judy Davis, excellent, what else. A drunk, she tours with other dancers and a bad Elvis Impersonator (Frankie J Holden) a loser of a character, bloody good here, the head of this trashy group. As Davis's car has stalled, she takes residence in the caravan park, and becomes friends with, you guessed it, Claudia Karvan, who of course, doesn't recognize her mother, who left her when she was very young. But the grandma, mother to Karvan's father, definitely recognizes her, crossing angry grounds with her, warding her off from seeing her. Eventually Karvan, discovers the truth from a slip of the tongue by Davis' current boyfriend. So now we really have the really meaty bit of drama, that scene where daughter confronts mother, that moment of deliberation she can't lie when first answering "No". There's so many things, and real instances you can within this film, when being a teen, those private kisses, those self esteem issues, hair, etc. And too, disappointment, when you Nana says "No" to stuff. Frankie Holden is great in the second scene, the first has Karvan flat on her back on her board, on a cloud somewhere in daydream land. This film has memorable scenes that I recall now and then, while dozing off to movieland. The eighties were the best of times. I also too like the mechanic, who handled the lighter and cheerier scenes. The story and situations to decisions in this movie is handled with sheer realism. Careful film making like this should run more frequent with films of this type. And in the ending too, this counts double. I'm glad Davis's decision was the one I wanted her to make. For Aussie lovers of drama, this is a must see, a fine feature film of value. And for Karvan, this is a great vehicle, to have for a starting point, and on a resume.
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