Sweet Country (2017) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • Australian western set on the Northern Territory frontier in the 1920s, where justice itself is put on trial when an aged Aboriginal farmhand shoots a white man in self-defense and goes on the run as a posse gathers to hunt him down.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • In 1929, Australia, rancher and former soldier struggling with PTSD, Harry March rides to the front porch of Preacher Fred Smith to ask him for some help in building a track yard for his cattle. Fred insists that he will be too busy to help the reason being his trip to town. However, when Harry, who is an outright atheist encourages him that helping him "would be the Christian thing to do," Fred asks his aborigine partner, Sam, whose family is living with him if he would be open to helping Harry. Sam immediately agrees. Upon arriving at Harry's home bringing his wife and niece along, Sam notices that Harry is struggling with a drinking problem and becomes increasingly hostile towards Sam. That night Harry gets drunk and behaves menacingly towards Sam's family. The next day while Sam is helping Harry with his fence, Harry asks him about who he believes is his daughter to which Sam explains that she is his niece, Lucy. Harry sets Sam busy to work and rides back to the cabin where Sam's wife and niece are staying. When the niece is away, Harry brutally rapes Sam's wife Lizzie and orders her to not tell anyone, saying that he will kill both her and Sam and take the niece for his own. Sam and his family return to Fred's home shortly before he leaves for town, asking him to take Lucy with him to town in case Harry makes a return. Harry then meets and quickly befriends a neighboring rancher, Mick Kennedy to ask him for some help from his aborigine farmhands in his ranch. When Mick hears that Sam was working with Harry, he relays that Sam had once worked for him until Mick maltreated him, prompting Sam to beat him to the ground before being run off his property. Harry immediately grows distrustful Philomac, Mick's youngest aborigine farmhand who has a reputation for stealing things. When he sees Philomac rifling through his saddlebags, Harry assumes that Philomac is trying to find and steal his gold watch and chains him to a boulder in the hot sun in punishment. However, Philomac escapes and runs off to the nearest ranch which just so happens to be Fred's ranch where Sam and Lizzie are staying. Harry chases after Philomac and accuses Sam of "harboring a prisoner" believing Philomac to be in the house. Sam, not knowing that Philomac is hiding in the nearby barn, insists that there is no one there and even inadvertently calls Harry by his first name, which spark's Harry's ire. Harry breaks the window of the house and begins firing into the home, nearly hitting Sam and Lizzie. Sam arms himself with a shotgun and when Harry attacks again, shoots him in the throat. Harry dies painfully in the dirt and Sam and Lizzie run off. Philomac comes out of hiding and robs the body of the gold watch, before running off. Mick soon learns that Sam has killed Harry and sets off to town where he tells what has happened to the brash and racist Sergeant Fletcher. Upon being told by his deputy that Harry was a veteran, like Fletcher himself, and that Sam is black, Fletcher arranges a posse consisting of Mick, Archie (Mick's right hand man), his deputy, and Fred, who volunteers only to make sure that Sam is not killed on the spot when found. Sam and Lizzie travel across the outback, staying together, but faltering when Lizzie begins questioning his leadership and his methods. The posse makes camp and Fred questions Fletcher's methods when Fletcher acts harshly towards Archie who is guiding them through the outback. Fletcher encourages for there to be a campfire song as way to change the subject. Fred begins singing "Jesus Loves Me" in an effort to get others to join in but Fletcher only looks ahead in disgust. Back at Mick's ranch, Philomac begins to regret his previous actions and hopes for Sam and Lizzie to escape, realizing how he has become like Mick Kennedy in being selfish and stealing. Sam and Lizzie are in fact far ahead of the posse with a high chance of escape. However, Sam begins to realize that there is something wrong with Lizzie as she begins vomiting out the breakfast they have just have. Nevertheless, they push on, with the posse coming across their abandoned camping grounds. Sam and Lizzie safely cross into Tribal land where hostile native aborigines live. While Sam and Lizzie navigate over the tribal camp via the cliffs, Fletcher, his deputy, and Fred ride headlong into the camp where a brief standoff ensues. The deputy foolishly opens fire on them but is soon struck in the head with a spear and falls from his horse. He is killed by the natives as the rest of the posse rides off. Fletcher takes his anger out on Archie only for Mick to intervene. Fletcher insists angrily that they move on while the others conclude that they must turn back. When Fred relays the futility of Fletcher's actions, Fletcher strikes him to the ground. Fred then leaves the posse telling Fletcher, "You're not right in the head." That night, Sam deducts that Lizzie is pregnant with Harry's child from the previous rape, and begins questioning whether they should continue running. He then finds a scorpion, which he hides in Fletcher's boot as a warning. However, Fletcher is unmoved and insists the hunt should continue. The posse reaches a salt desert in which both Mick and Archie decide to return home while an adamant Fletcher continues the hunt. However, he does not make it far. Dying of thirst and heatstroke, Fletcher collapses to the ground near death's door. Sam arrives, much to Fletcher's disbelief, and spares him by giving home a near-empty skin of water. Sam leaves after stripping Fkletcher of his weapons. Seeing the posse return home, Philomac is relieved to find that Sam and Lizzie escaped, and that Mick has begun to grow a professional respect towards Philomac. Tensions arise between Sam and Lizzie as Lizzie is angry that Sam did not kill Fletcher when he had the chance. It is revealed then that Fletcher had turned back and submerges his dried body in a water spring nearby. Sam had loaded Fletcher's own rifle and had prepared to shoot him during Fletcher's rest but decided not to, as Sam believed himself to be no murderer. Archie confronts Philomac about Mick's interest in him and reminds him that he is not like Mick but instead, "A Black fella like me." Lizzie is almost accosted by tribal aborigines while fetching water but Sam arrives and rescues her, killing the attacker, but letting the fleeing one escape as he was unarmed. Fletcher returns home, empty-handed and depressed over his failure. He is greeted by his Saloon girlfriend and his adopted daughter, but even their attempts to relieve him fall short. Fletcher takes out his anger on the town while they are watching a projected movie of the exploits of the "Kelly Gang." Fletcher tries to imagine a new life for himself with his girlfriend, but is unable to cope with losing a battle. The next morning he walks to his office to discover both Sam and Lizzie have returned having turned themselves into his law and authority. Despite surprise at first, Fletcher once again relapse to his hostility and locks Sam in solitary confinement before beating him and bragging to him that he will hang, blaming him for the death of his deputy. A scaffolding of gallows is erected nearby for Sam to hang from. In the saloon the next day, Fletcher becomes more and more possessive of his girlfriend, much to her disgust. He then runs in with the judge who has arrived to judge Sam, and is skeptical as he sees how young the judge is. While eating pickled eggs, Fletcher proudly tells the judge that there is no courthouse or church in the town, to which the judge is disgusted with. That night, Fletcher goes to Sam's cell and proudly announces that there is no way for Sam to survive saying, "I am the law." The next morning at the trial, Archie is called up as a witness, and though inexperienced, gives a good explanation as to how Harry was behaving towards Philomac and Sam. Lizzie is called up as a witness but is unresponsive to his questions regarding the treatment she endured with Harry March due to the still raw trauma she is grappling with from his rape. The trial continues, and the entire town except for the judge and Fred, cry out for his hanging. The trial continues and Sam is called up for his confession. He confesses that he has deduced that Lizzie had become pregnant after Harry assaulted her and confesses that he killed Harry in self-defense. Sam also confesses that he himself is barren and cannot have children, to which Fletcher begins to sympathize with him, implied to also suffer from the same position. Before the final verdict is set, Philomac steals some food from the saloon and begins eating, but then shares it with Lucy. Fred arrives at Sam's cell to pray for him alongside Lizzie and Lucy. Mick is convinced that there is no escape for Sam and berates Fred for standing up for Sam. The final verdict is passed and the judge explains that Sam is innocent, as the kill shot he dealt Harry March was done in self-defense. Mick is enraged at this and also put out when he sees Philomac with Archie. He becomes possessive of Philomac and explains to Archie that they will be leaving the vicinity as soon as the trial is over. Sam is relieved to find that he has been found innocent. The town roars in rage to this but Fletcher steps in and stands up for Sam. Fred and Sam along with Sam's family leave the town in a wagon escorted by Fletcher. Mick buys a shotgun and realizes that Philomac is starting to speak like him. Fletcher escorts them out of the town down a country road saying that it is clear from then on out. In the wagon, Sam smiles for the first time throughout the entire film and thanks Fred, calling him "boss." Fred insists that Sam call him "Friend" instead. Sam happily calls him a friend. Just then, a gunshot rings out and Sam is shot in the chest. He falls back into the wagon and dies peacefully in Fred's arms. The traumatized Lizzie and Lucy watch in horror as he dies. Lizzie weeps and Lucy sits nearby, covered in his blood from the blast looking blindly ahead. Horrified and enraged, Sam calls out in anger and storms away through the beautiful countryside praying aloud, "What chance have they got? What chance does this country got?" Elsewhere, Philomac sits nearby a river, seeing now that Harry March's watch has stopped working. Seeing how much he has become like Mick and feeling responsible for Sam's death he drops the watch into the river, letting the last of Harry March's remnants sink with it. Inspired by Sam's death, Fred begins work in building a church in the vicinity.

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