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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Nitram' Review: Tragedy Is In The Air & In Caleb Landry Jones' Alarming Stare

Caleb Landry Jones with his head down next to a window
IFC Films

Making quips before talking about certain films would feel quite wrong unless you truly have something golden that you've just been sitting on for a long time, hence it's just better to not fake one because here is one of those films in Nitram. Based on real events leading up to the horrific Port Arthur massacre in 1996, director Justin Kurzel and writer Shaun Grant's piece follows the life of its eventual perpetrator, nicknamed Nitram, as played by Caleb Landry Jones. It's an extremely heavy and uncomfortable character study that starts with this intellectually disabled man, living with his mom and dad (Judy Davis and Anthony LaPaglia, respectively) before meeting a wealthy, friendly figure in Helen (Essie Davis). Two devastating losses and difficulty to make connections with people end up driving Nitram to the place of no return.

You can probably come up with a hundred ways that a movie with a premise like this could go wrong so it's quite remarkable what Kurzel and Grant manage to do along with the cast. It's not something that you're likely going to rewatch ever again but the distress that it effortlessly leaves you with is a feeling many movies can't do even when they're pretty much programmed to do so. Thematically it touches on what is essentially an open highway to commit or experience gun violence, from an agonising scene at a gun shop where the last line of dialogue simply references the money transaction, to lack of professional help when someone prone to violence is struggling with their mental health.

Performances are great across the board, led by Jones who never goes too big with his despite that it'd be very easy to do with this character. There's a more subtle thing going on with Judy Davis who expresses every important feeling in between her lines which is perhaps the most heartbreaking presence in the whole movie. A special shoutout also deserves to go the vivid colour in the film, often contrasting the forthcoming tragedy beautifully; it even makes up for some small problems in scenes where the mood gets a little absurd, considering the subject matter. Those mainly occur right after the emotional conflict hits and it's notably jarring when the final act comes around and the filmmakers handle the tough part humanely and quietly, a relief for those who might've been worried about them easing effects of this man's heinous deeds.

Smileys: Judy Davis, colouring, Caleb Landry Jones

Frowneys: Minor issues with atmosphere

Not doing a quip for this one.


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