Rachel Ward loathed Andrew Dominik's gangster movie Killing Them Softly, recoiling at its nastiness towards women and the “horrible, vindictive, misogynistic language”.
Ordinarily it might be a case of so what? Rachel is entitled to her opinion. But the English-born actress-writer-director was so incensed she posted her review on Wendy Harmer's website The Hoopla.
That's one of the few times one Australian filmmaker has publicly criticised another, and Rachel's intervention triggered a lively debate on the blogosphere, with echoes of Prime Minister Julia Gillard's views on sexism and misogyny.
At the outset Rachel declared she's a fan of Dominik's Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and she was eager to see this movie starring Brad Pitt as a hit man who oversees the killing of a trio of small-time mobsters who robbed an illegal poker game, and Ben Mendelsohn as a dog thief and wannabe heroin dealer.
Her verdict: “I am merely bored by yet another tedious gangster movie that thinks it has something new to say that we didn't get in the first five minutes… and loathing the characters and wondering in how many films Brad can wear long side levers and chew on matchsticks before the game is up.”
She hated the language and crude references to women, as did her husband Bryan Brown, who sat silently with her. She declared, “Thank God, as my husband shows, there are millions of men like him who shut down in shame when they hear other men speaking of women this way, and we girls cannot allow ourselves to become inured to these vile displays of word and thought.”
Ward has directed Beautiful Kate and several episodes of The Straits and Rake; currently she's directing the ABC telemovie An Accidental Soldier, featuring Dan Spielman and Brown. Her trenchantly expressed opinions struck a chord with many readers of The Hoopla, male and female, judging by the comments posted. However one bloke, Matthew Chuang, sprung to Dominik's defence, reproaching Rachel: “You're a fellow filmmaker. To tell another filmmaker to censor their characters, their language, their actions is ridiculous. It's disrespectful to both the filmmakers and the audience. I'm sure you wouldn't stand for it when it comes to one of your films. And clearly with Beautiful Kate you want to tell dark stories and layered characters. Not all likable but definitely not censored.”
Rachel and Bryan's daughter Matilda Brown posted the review on her Facebook page, eliciting this comment from actor Anthony Hayes, “I thought it was 'hip' and crude filmmaking. The direction was overtly deliberate and frustrating. And I don't think the metaphor was strong enough to hold up the deliberate 'anti plot' approach to the film. I loved Jessie [sic] James and Chopper. But this felt like it was terribly forced and reaching for a greater meaning which it didn't find. Great performances though.”
Writer-director David Barker, who spearheaded a crowd-funding campaign via Pozible to raise $75,000 for his movie The Second Coming with producer Polly Staniford, commented on Facebook, “I'm wondering, should films show what men aren't? Dominik's story centred around men who don't respect women because they are complete and utter fuck-ups. They are criminals. They are the 0.001% of the population. I guess you could ask the question, why make a film about them at all? But, hey – they got guns.”
For what it's worth, I agree with Rachel, and I suspect numerous women showed they were not interested in the film by simply not turning up. Not that many blokes were all that enthused, judging by the mediocre opening week gross of $859,000.
Lawless, John Hillcoat's Prohibition-era Western, opened on the same day and rang up a similarly uninspiring $1.15 million on 46 more screens; neither was a match for the second week of Fox's macho over-achiever Taken 2. Hillcoat's movie wasn't well received in the US, earning just $37 million; Dominik's film debuts there on November 30, both handled by the Weinstein Co.
If Rachel and Bryan haven't seen Lawless, a violent tale of moonshiners at war with a vicious lawman played by Guy Pearce, I advise against it. I reckon they'd think the only significant female characters played by Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain get short shrift versus the screen time devoted to Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Pearce and Jason Clarke.
And they might cringe when one leering male says of Chastain's character that she looks so tough he'd need a crowbar to open her up. I did.