Review by Sean Boelman
Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel takes stories that are well-known and peels beneath their surface to reveal something deeper about his own society. His newest film, Nitram, treads a fine line, exploring the lead-up to one of the most devastating tragedies in the history of Australia, and it does so in a way that is quite tormenting.
The movie follows an isolated man whose crumbling psyche, combined with his increasing loneliness and anger, push him down a path of darkness culminating in the Port Arthur mass shooting. It’s a tough film to watch, and questions will certainly be posed about whether or not this is a necessary and appropriate approach to this story, and the truth is there is no easy answer.
Kurzel and co. have taken special care to make sure that the movie is as respectful to the victims of this tragedy as possible. The perpetrator’s real name is never mentioned in the film as to not allow him to gain fame for committing such atrocities. Yet the idea of a movie that could easily be misconstrued as humanizing someone who did such heinous acts will rub some people the wrong way.
There’s no doubt that the film is not trying to make the character sympathetic, much less some sort of hero. However, it is a critique of a broken system which caused him to spiral down such a dark rabbit hole. The scene in the movie that will likely stick with viewers for a long time discusses the problems with lack of gun control in Australia.
Caleb Landry Jones gives a performance that is impressively deranged. It’s a turn that isn’t easy to stomach, but that is clearly the point — he is supposed to be making us feel uncomfortable. You can tell that the combination of Kurzel’s skill in directing actors and Jones’s in bringing these characters to life is what made this film tick.
In fact, the entire atmosphere here is one of general unease. Even when things are “going right” for the character, the viewer can’t escape that feeling that something is amiss. Granted, a big part of this is the feeling of dread, knowing exactly where this story is taking us and what is going to happen (albeit off-camera).
But Kurzel’s visual style in the movie also lends itself to this discomfort. It’s a look that feels dilapidated and worn, which both periodizes the film well and creates something that almost resembles disorientation. As the character loses his grip on reality, everything starts to become more hectic and explosive.
Nitram isn’t an easy movie to dissect, but it is one that lends itself to discussion. There will certainly be a fair share of people who are not a fan of what it does, and understandably so, but its message is important and delivered in a way that is mostly effective.
Nitram hits theaters, VOD, and AMC+ on March 30.