Film Scouts Reviews

"Dead Heart"

by Wes Rosenbaum

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December 11, 1996

The title of this new Australian movie, Dead Heart, refers to the dead heart of the centre of Australia, the red centre. There is enough red dust in this movie to prove it was shot in the outback.

This movie is a return for Bryan Brown. He stars in the lead role as the local Senior Constable in a small outback settlement, Wala Wala. Brown also co-produced this feature. Brown turns in a convincing performance and shows that he is, indeed, an excellent acting craftsman.

Ernie Dingo plays the aboriginal preacher/bureaucrat who acts as the middle man between the white fella law and the black fella tribal law. Somewhat stereotypical, Ernie's character isn't really white and isn't very black either. He's forgotten the tribal ways. And, as he say in the climatic final scenes, he's too soft to live the "old ways" in the desert.

The story starts with an aboriginal death in custody, an all to common tale in Australian jails. A popular tribal member hangs himself in the local lock-up. The tribal elder, Poppy, wants black fella justice for the guilty and feels the police are as guilty as the local who supplied the grog.

Into this hothouse is mixed a collection of white residents, a do-gooder teacher and his wife & kids, an archaeologist, etc. The teachers wife, played by Kate Milliken, has an affair with the local Aboriginal lothario. The place they choose is a sacred site. Tribal elders are outraged and the lover dies mysteriously. Brown is certain it's murder. He "knows" how these people work. "They can kill you without leaving marks".

The movie starts slowly, like the pace in outback Australia. But this supposed murder picks up the pace. Without revealing the ending, too much, Brown ends up in the desert, pursuing those he feels are responsible.

The main problem with this movie is that the director has taken a good story and tried to include all the other wrongs the white fella has brought to the black fella. There 's a scene of petrol sniffing. There are three mentions of the "stolen children" from the 50's & 60's. There's the constant reminder of grog. Even ATSIC, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, comes in for a mention. ATSIC is in the Australian press at the moment as a billion dollar boondoggle run by indigenous people for indigenous people. There is simply too much moralizing and this distracts from the storyline.

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