Nitram is an Australian combination of biographical film and dark psychological drama directed by Justin Kurzel, while Sean Grant was in charge of the screenplay. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in July last year, and after a short cinema distribution, it arrived on the servers of the Australian streaming platform Stan. It is worth mentioning that this is the winner of the competition program of the jubilee fiftieth FEST.
The film is named after the nickname that has the main character in the film (Caleb Landry Jones), an unstable guy who lives with his parents in the Australian suburbs. After the first shot, it is clear to us that something is wrong with him, but we are not sure whether his behavior is the product of mental illness, boredom or something else. Nitram’s everyday life is filled with isolation, frustration, quarrels with his mother and the use of pyrotechnics, and everything changes when he makes a close friend in the withdrawn, eccentric Helen (Essie Davis). However, due to the circumstances, his loneliness will culminate in a crime that shook Australia.
The very beginning of the film, which shows an archival video of the killer when he was a boy, is the first warning sign that the boy’s parents obviously ignore. His mother (Judy Davis) is firm and strict, but compliant, while his father (Anthony Lapalja) is even more compliant due to depression, which is getting worse as his family and dreams begin to fall apart before him. The fact is that they could and should have helped their son more, but in addition to their own shortcomings, it was not so easy. Nitram also receives a disability pension on antidepressants, although his psychiatrist hopes to stop using them soon.
The mother is fed up with Nitram’s whims and buying things that catch dust in the shed, so Nitram decides to mow the lawns in the neighborhood in order to earn a surfboard. That’s how he meets Helen, a rich heiress in a big dilapidated house that the young man quickly likes. She buys him things and Nitram finally moves in with her. The nature of their relationship remains a mystery – the fact is that they are both lonely, but Nitram certainly used the opportunity to get what he wanted and irritate his mother.
Before watching the film, I knew that it was a film adaptation of events that turned Australia black, but I had no idea what it was about. This author duo presented it eleven years ago Snowtowna film with a similar theme that dealt with the killers from Snowtown, while they made three years ago True History of the Kelly Gang, a western about the famous outlaw Ned Kelly. As in the case of any film adaptation of brutal crimes, I asked myself a justified question of whether it is really necessary to dramatize a specific story from the specific perspective of the perpetrator. At the end of this film, I answered – it is necessary.
Nitram it does not exploit the tragedy or portray the violence that took place in Port Arthur in 1996, which is commendable. Instead of bloody scenes, we get a text on a black background that is equally striking and moving. The film has caused controversy, especially among people who survived the crime and the families of those killed, and they certainly have the right to criticize the existence of this film. However, for viewers who know nothing about this case Nitram it has a purpose – by showing the psychological background of the killer and his life, we get an understandable idea of why and how he did it all.
Far from this film glorifying the killer, on the contrary. The point of each scene is to show us what could have stopped him years earlier, but also what made him or committed him to commit a crime by which he will be remembered. If there is a certain mistake in the objective view of the author of this film on this man and these events, it can be justified by artistic freedom for the sake of a higher goal. Just as not showing the murders is the right choice, so is the fact that we don’t know the name of the killer during the film.
The authors are incredibly close to finding sympathy for Nitram in the sense that it is a product of their limitations, their family and everything that goes wrong for all of them. However, as soon as such a thought is created, it recedes with a precisely calibrated and impressive performance of the main actor who specializes in interpreting such characters. Personal events combined with the manner in which the second mass shooting is talked about and the ease with which weapons could be purchased in Australia at the time lead to an event that changed gun laws, although the application itself is questionable.
Everything in this film is perfectly adapted to the themes and messages that the authors send – from excellent character actors in supporting roles, through the way of shooting with a hand-held camera, all the way to the choice of musical sections that increase the discomfort. The authors left out a good part of Nitram’s biography (which is perfectly fine), but also what they recorded is a lot of details and situations that seem incredible. Caleb Landry Jones deservedly was named the best actor at the Cannes Film Festival.
Nitram is a sensitive combination of biographical film and dark psychological drama that asks viewers to face an individual crisis that led to the darkest moment in Australian history – a well-acted and deeply disturbing study of the character. Final grade: 9/10
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