Tuesday 28 June 2022

Justin Kurzel's Critically Acclaimed 'Nitram' (2021) - Film Review ★★★☆☆

Nitram 2021 | Film Poster | Film Review

It was an event that shocked the world. The April 1996 Port Arthur massacre caused fundamental changes to Australia's gun control laws and remains an incredibly traumatic event in the nation's history. Director Justin Kurzel explores the events leading up to the massacre in the critically-acclaimed film Nitram that has won 18 Australian and international film awards to date, including Best Actor for Caleb Landry Jones at Cannes Film Festival 2021.

At no point does the film name the perpetrator of the massacre, referring only to 'Nitram', a nickname that Martin Bryant particularly hated. Indeed, much in the film is off-screen including, thankfully, the events of the actual massacre and its aftermath. What we see instead are the events in Bryant's life in the years leading up to that fateful day and how he appeared to the outside eye.

Nitram is a difficult film to judge and I'm left wondering what the point of it was. There is the overwhelming impression that guns should never have been sold to such a strange and unstable young man who clearly had a volatile and unsettling demeanour. The question is, who is the message in this film intended for? Perhaps countries that still have guns for sale to the public and instances of mass shootings (e.g. USA and Russia)?The message at the end of the film, that there are more guns in Australia now than in 1996, makes the film feel unbearably nihilistic and, again, pointless. It's a lone voice screaming into the chasm and it appears, perhaps, 25 years too late.

The performances by the four main actors were undeniably good. Caleb Landry Jones delivers such a convincing performance as Nitram that the viewer's lip seems to instinctively curl in disgust. Nitram is a horrible and thoroughly unlikeable character, is it any surprise that he struggled to fit in?

Yet this is the issue I have with the film. Martin Bryant was known to have an extremely low IQ of 66 and was later diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. We see how impossible it was to like this strange young man but not how this might have felt to him. In a sense, Nitram shows us no more than Bryant's Wikipedia page but we still have no insight into the man, his feelings, his motives.

I don't necessarily want excuses or explanations for the events in Port Arthur in 1996 but I have to ask again, what was the point of this film?

I'm given to question why I watched this film and what I expected from it. Following the attention at film festivals, I expected a more insightful look into Bryant's psyche and the circumstances leading to his decision but instead, Nitram felt like an average linear biopic, faithfully portraying the events in Bryant's life but failing to deliver anything of substance.

Given that we know so little about Bryant except that he revelled in his notoriety and in learning more about the extent of his casualties, is it not likely that this film is simply giving him what he wanted?

Caleb Landry Jones is Nitram
I give Nitram an okay three out of five stars. Director Justin Kurzel has delivered a film with great acting and superb cinematography but it's a slow-moving and ultimately pointless film that simply throws celebrity but not insight into Martin Bryant's actions.

Released exclusively in cinemas nationwide on 1 July 2022 / 112 mins / Cert: 15 / Picturehouse Entertainment

Nitram (2021): Trailer


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