Nitram ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Review by Andrea Carnevali
Events leading up to the 1996 Port Arthur massacre on Tasmania in an attempt to understand why and how the atrocity occurred. Out next Friday in selected cinemas.
I came into this pretty blind, not knowing anything about the film, nor the subject matter, but if you have a little bit of knowledge of recent history, or better Australian history, it won’t take you long to piece together where all this is going.
Retrospectively I wish I had known, so I would have been a bit more prepared for the grim journey I was going to take.
This is indeed a deeply unsettling, intensely depressing and yet coolly presented drama about the events that preceded one of the saddest days in Australian history, when back in 1996, 35 people were killed and 23 others were wounded in a senseless shooting rampage.
As you can imagine, this is not a walk in the park: the film unravels slowly through the months and weeks that preceded the unspeakable tragedy and it’s told from the point of view of the shooter himself: a deeply disturbed loner, with some obvious intellectual disabilities, which are never quite explained.
He doesn’t have a job nor any social life and still lives with his parents at the age of 28. It is clear that the young man is also emotionally empty, he lacks empathy and doesn’t seem to understand the consequences of any of his dangerous actions, whether he’s playing with fireworks in front of children, or driving recklessly almost crashing against other cars.
But before you say “hold on a second, why should I watch a film about a killer?”, let me tell you what a splendid job the filmmakers managed to do in carefully balancing the depiction of the events, with forensic authenticity, while at the same time keeping the violence completely off-screen and most importantly without glorifying the shooter.
The film is clearly not interested in the actual mass shooting; it is more a quiet and naturalistic character piece than anything else.
Even the killer’s real name is never mentioned: the title itself Nitram, is his name spelt backwards and that’s how he is called throughout.
Caleb Landry Jones’s mesmerising central performance is very low key, terrifying as subtle and perfectly calibrated, like the rest of the film, which never gives easy answers and never tells us what to think or feel.
And so whatever is going on inside the killer’s head we will never really truly understand. In the end, despite all the tragedies and sadness around him, the audience still feels a certain revulsion rather than pity.
Unsurprisingly Landi Jones won the best actor award at Cannes last year; the rest of the cast is equally strong.
Once the final captions appear during the end credits, they reveal not just the harrowing scope of the tragedy, the biggest mass shooting in Australian history, but we are also told that it took less than two weeks after the shooting for Australia to reform its gun laws. The government ended up buying back and destroying more than 640,000 arms.
A message which resonates even louder today, just a few days after the latest horrific mass shooting in the elementary school in Texas. All of which makes this film not just incredibly topical, but also more poignant and even more infuriating.
Whether we needed this film or not is another story, but given the fact that it’s now been made and it does exists, I cannot see how it could have been any better. It is a very powerful piece of film making with an urgent and very topical message.
Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick
Nitram is available in selected cinemas, including Chiswick Cinema, from this Friday.
See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali
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