Nitram (Justin Kurzel, 2021, Australia)

     Nitram is a return to form for Australian director Justin Kurzel. His first film, The Snowtown Murders, was an incredible and realistic portrayal of a true crime story. In his following films - an adaptation of Macbeth, his big-budget Assassin's Creed bomb, and the wild True History of the Kelly Gang - he moved away from realism. Nitram brings Kurzel back to realism, and also to Australia. The film relates the events leading up to the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre in Tasmania - the worst massacre perpetrated by a single individual in Australian history. The film takes some liberties with the actual events - the perpetrator for example had a girlfriend at the time he committed the massacre, a detail which is strangely omitted. Likewise, he is shown purchasing his guns from a local gun store, when in reality he ordered them by mail. 

    Caleb Landry Jones's performance more than makes up for these gaps in the truth. While there is a sense of dread and inevitability to the events of the film, he emanates a sense of tension and unease that leaves the viewer feeling engaged despite the film's inevitable finale. Jones - an American actor - very convincingly adopts an Australian accent, and even physically transformed for the role, putting weight onto his normally wiry frame. His win for the Best Actor prize at this year's Cannes is not a surprise at all. 

    Jones's performances is anchored by a group of even more incredible performances - notably Judy Davis as his mother, Anthony LaPaglia as his depression-stricken father, and Essie David as Helen, his love interest. While there is an epilogue to the film that describes what happened to the local gun laws following the event, the script leaves a great deal of ambiguity in terms of what made "Nitram" into a killer. There is a particularly chilling monologue by Judy Davis that suggests he was simply born bad.

8/10

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