Mark Reviews Movies

Strangerland

STRANGERLAND

1 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Kim Farrant

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving, Joseph Fiennes, Lisa Flanagan, Meyne Wyatt, Maddison Brown, Nicholas Hamilton

MPAA Rating: R (for language, some sexuality and brief graphic nudity)

Running Time: 1:52

Release Date: 7/10/15


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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 9, 2015

There's an odd moral equivalency that occurs right near the end of Strangerland. Two characters have been hiding key pieces of information from each other, and they finally reveal their secrets. The information, by the way, involves the disappearance of these characters' children. Here's the odd part: One secret has little to do with the actual disappearance, and the other essentially makes the character morally, if not legally, culpable for it. The revelations, though, are seen as equals, because the important thing is that each character is finally able to speak to the other about something without yelling, blaming, or dismissing. It's not out of line to believe that one of them has every right to yell at and blame the other in this particular instance.

This is the culmination of a movie that has its priorities twisted. Two children are missing, but their fate seems to be of little import to the screenplay by Fiona Seres and Michael Kinirons. The kids' disappearance is more a matter of convenience—an impetus for the parents to rail against their own respective situations and each other.

Catherine (Nicole Kidman) and Matthew Parker (Joseph Fiennes) are self-centered people. It makes it difficult to sympathize with them when they appear to be, at worst, disinterested in what has happened to their children. At best, they are only interested in their missing kids to the degree it affects them.

These aren't good people, although that isn't necessarily an automatic detriment for the movie. The problem is the way the movie uses the disappearance of two children as a means of instigating some form of therapy for the parents, both individually and as a couple. That move isn't necessarily a bad idea, either, but there's something unavoidably cynical in the combination of these characters and this situation. The movie seems to be saying that only way for these characters to work out their issues is for some tragedy to befall them. It undermines both the characters and the tragedy.

The kids are 15-year-old Lily (Maddison Brown) and 12-year-old Tommy (Nicholas Hamilton). Lily has a history of sexual abuse by a teacher. Matthew doesn't just accuse his daughter of wrongdoing (The movie itself seems to be shaming Lily for her actions, considering how little it cares to understand why she might be behaving in such a way). He also scolds Catherine for somehow instilling this kind of behavior in their daughter, given Catherine's free-spirited past.

Tommy, meanwhile, has started taking long walks through the wilderness at night because he can't sleep. One night, Tommy goes out for one of his nightlong strolls, and because of a heated argument between her and her father, Lily follows him. Matthew watches as his son and daughter leave but doesn't say anything to Catherine or David Rae (Hugo Weaving, solid as the only of the trio of central characters who could be seen to have a good head on his shoulders), the detective in charge once the runaway situation becomes a full-blown missing persons case.

The story spends the majority of its time with Catherine, who spends most of that time trying to get attention to compensate for the fact that she feels her personality has become repressed by the burdens of marriage and a family. Kidman is fine, and director Kim Farrant does a serviceable job trying to get inside of Catherine's head. It's simply not a pleasant place to be, though. She flirts with Rae, who might be attracted to her but doesn't do anything about it, and Burtie (Meyne Wyatt), the family's gardener. Catherine has a stronger reaction to these sexual rejections than she does to anything regarding her children. In a similar way, she's more affected by a poem about her in Lily's journal than any of the other information she finds there, including multiple accounts of statutory rape.

Matthew, on the other hand, is worried that the gossip and rumors surrounding the incident will reflect poorly on him and tarnish his budding reputation in a new town. He goes about his work running the local pharmacy, not to keep himself busy but in order to keep up appearances. There are hints that Matthew might have been Lily's first abuser, although he denies the accusations. Fiennes performance is so disjointed that Matthew is simply an unknowable enigma.

Strangerland intentionally eschews any closure on the mystery of one of the missing kids. While that is superficially frustrating (and also solidifies that the kids are a convenient plot device), it's far more annoying that the movie believes it is providing closure to the parents, who start off antagonistic, selfish people and end as selfish folks who at least aren't at each other's throats. All it takes is a couple of innocent victims.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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