A desperate father (Hugo Weaving) takes his 10-year-old son, Chook (Tom Russell), on the run after committing a violent crime. As the two journey into the desert and an unknown future, their troubled relationship and the need to survive sees them battling the elements and each other. Chook eventually takes control and the choice he is forced to make has a devastating effect on both their lives.
Yet another excursion down that well-worn path, the Australian road movie, Glendyn Ivin’s debut feature Last Ride offers a few fresh twists but faces one major obstacle: Why should audiences give a toss about one of the two protagonists?
Hugo Weaving’s ex-con Kev is a thuggish low-life with a quick temper, a mean, violent streak and almost no redeeming qualities. Yes, he loves his son, 10-year-old Chook (Tom Russell) but, being emotionally repressed and inarticulate, he has trouble expressing affection, let alone showing it.
It soon becomes clear that Weaving’s character is on the run with Chook after a crime where the victim was a guy named Max (John Brompton). Mac Gudgeon’s screenplay skilfully keeps the viewer guessing about Max’s fate and his relationship with Kev and his son, until all is revealed in the latter part of the film.
The problem is, Kev is such a loathsome creep, why would audiences care about their journey across the Outback, even with Weaving’s best efforts to try to bring a skerrick of humanity to the character?
So the film relies heavily on developing Chook from a kid who’s hurt, frightened and confused to someone who’s forced by cruel circumstances to assert himself and, as Kev might scornfully say, 'be a man."
Their trek is enlivened by a series of incidents. Kev calls in to see and bonk Maryanne (Anita Hegh), an old flame who taught him maths during one of his stints in prison. They break into an Afghan museum where they meet an Indian-born doctor and steal her car. Camping in a national park, they encounter Aboriginal rangers, which prompts Kev to reveal his grandmother was black. There’s an uneasy relationship between father and son, lightened on one occasion when they swap corny jokes.
Greig Fraser’s wide-screen photography makes maximum use of spectacular locations in South Australia, including a key scene on a shimmering salt lake.
Unshaven and tattooed, Weaving exudes menace and does a fair job in showing there is a tiny part of the monstrous Kev that does care about his son. Weaving is much more at ease, and credible, in character-driven dramas like this, Little Fish and The Interview than he was in The Matrix and Lord of the Rings. As Chook, Tom Russell is a real find, lacking the self-consciousness that bedevils many tyros.
Ivin, whose short film Cracker Bag won the Palme D’Or at Cannes in 2003 and two AFI awards, builds tension nicely until the unpredictable, make-of-it-what-you-will, Peter Weir-ish conclusion. The dialogue is sparse, as Ivin relies on the visuals and Paul Charlier’s haunting score to create mood and atmosphere.
Last Ride was partly funded by the Adelaide Film Festival Investment Fund, which seeks out projects with bold and innovative story telling, striking use of screen language and a strong creative team. I’d give the film a tick on all those counts; I just wish Kev wasn’t such a jerk, who repels rather than invites sympathy.