Cert 18 | ★★★★✩
Caleb Landry Jones (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Get Out) leads a stellar Aussie cast in this impressive dramatisation of the infamous 1996 Port Arthur massacre in which 35 people were murdered by a lone gunman. Directed by Justin Kurzel (True History of the Kelly Gang), Nitram premiered at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival where Jones also won the best actor prize for his brilliant interpretation of a troubled young man who became Australia’s most notorious mass killer.
Acclaimed Aussie actors Anthony LaPaglia (So I Married an Axe Murderer, Empire Records, Without a Trace), Essie Davis (The Babadook) – who is married to Kurzel – and Judy Davis also star, while writer Shaun Grant delivers a commendably courageous and thought-provoking screenplay.
Jones is Nitram, based on notorious mass shooter Martin Bryant, an intellectually challenged young man living wIth his parents (LaPaglia and Julie Davis) in Port Arthur, Tasmania, in the mid 1990s. Having secured a business loan, Nitram’s father hopes to buy a local bed and breakfast business and start a new venture involving the whole family.
After begging his mother to buy him a surfboard to no avail, Nitram decides to offer his services as a lawn cutter in the hope of making his own money. The young man soon forms a deep friendship with a middle-aged wealthy neighbour named Helen (Essie David) who hires him to walk her dogs. When tragedy strikes, Nitran finds himself alone again and angry at the world. To make matters worse, his father is outbid for the b&b by a young couple, leaving the whole family unsure what to do next.
Kurzel’s film manages to be hard-hitting and technically sound while avoiding the tropes usually found in similarly themed productions.
He and screenwriter Shaun Grant deliver a sober treatment of this shocking story, which is beautifully acted by the cast. While they never exonerate Nitram there is no denying that one feels almost some kind of sympathy for the young man and his predicaments.
On the whole, this is a level-headed retelling of a shocking event. It highlights the continued rise in gun ownership in Australia at the end of the film.
Kurzel however never seems to explicitly make a pertinent case for or against, which in the end feels a little alarming for a director who has once again made a film from the point of view of a mass murderer.