A small working town on the Australian coast. Jared (Laurence Breuls) is still at school, but lives to surf. When his best mate Ricko (Simon Lyndon) returns to town Jared decides to throw a party at the surf club. But things soon get out of hand, and Jared witnesses Ricko leading the gang rape of a fifteen-year-old girl, Tracy (Bojana Novakovic), on a deserted stretch of beach. And the next morning the girl is found dead.
Written by Nick Enright from his own stage play (which was developed in parallel with the screenplay), and directed by former actor Steven Vidler, Blackrock deals with several Australian themes: the beach and surfing, the macho culture that it spawns, and the rules of mateship which, for Jared, prevent him telling anyone what he saw. As the police (led by Chris Haywood and Essie Davis) investigate, the crime splits the community. Much of this is along gender lines: the boys think that Tracy was a “slut” who must have asked for it, while the girls think entirely differently. This is especially so with Cherie (Rebecca Smart), Tracy’s best friend, who is gripped by a rage that she can barely articulate or control. Meanwhile, Jared’s divorced mother Diane (Linda Cropper) has problems of her own, having been diagnosed with breast cancer, something she has not been able to tell Jared about.
Although the crime at the heart of Blackrock acts as a plot motor, it’s not the main point of a fairly short film, taking place twenty-five minutes in and being “resolved” some forty minutes later. What the film is after is something a little bigger: an examination of the community and its attitudes, and the fault lines exposed by this tragedy. Some of this is a little heavy-handed, especially the final scene with Jared helping to clean the word SLUT that someone has painted on Tracy’s headstone, as if that would recompense for his actions up to that point. There are no problems with Laurence Breuls’s acting, but your reaction to this film will depend on your reaction to his character and how much sympathy you have for him. The film tries to balance between criticising what he does (or more specifically doesn’t do) and understanding why he acts the way he does.
Steven Vidler directs his mostly young cast very well, with the help of DP Martin McGrath giving the film a raucous energy. This is aided by the sound design, the quiet of Jared and Diane’s home coming as a shock compared to the yells and the blaring music of the party scenes. Most of the youngsters are the age of the characters they play and many of them hadn’t acted before, and some only on TV, though Rebecca Smart had delivered one of the great Australian child performances nine years earlier in Celia and Justine Clarke had also appeared as a youngster in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Among the adults, Linda Cropper is the real heart of the film as Diane, and Chris Haywood is his reliable self as the detective leading the case. The film also features early roles from a couple of adults who have gone on to better things: Essie Davis as the other detective on the case and Sacha Horler (who a year later would win the AFI Awards for Best Leading Actress and Best Supporting Actress at the same ceremony, for Praise and Soft Fruit respectively) as a teacher. Making his big-screen debut in the small role of Toby, and flagged on the DVD cover due to his latter-day fame, is a seventeen-year-old called Heath Ledger.
Universal’s DVD of Blackrock is dual-layered in PAL format, and encoded for Region 4 only.
Like far too many Australian releases, Blackrock is transferred to DVD in 4:3, which is open-matte. This is not the intended aspect ratio, which is likely to be either 1.75:1 or 1.85:1. Some of my colleagues give an automatic zero in the “video” category if the aspect ratio is incorrect but for me, although this will certainly lose the disc marks, there are degrees of sin. Owners of widescreen televisions should zoom the image to 16:9, which is what I did, and hence approximate the aspect ratio that way. Needless to say, a proper anamorphic transfer would be better. That said, this is otherwise a decent transfer. The film has a bold colour scheme. Much of it seems to have been shot through an orange filter, resulting in some softness. This scheme cools down as the film progresses. There is some grain, some noticeable aliasing in places and some spots and speckles on the print. Acceptable but far from outstanding.
The DVD has a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, which plays as surround through a ProLogic amp. It’s mostly during the party scenes that the surrounds come alive, with music, voices and a good few ambient effects. At 27 minutes, a helicopter will fly around your room.
Extras are fairly basic, mostly derived from an electronic press kit. A series of interviews is the main one, with a question appearing on screen as text and the answer (in most cases under a minute long) following. Interviewees are producer David Elfick (4:33), Steven Vidler (6:52), Nick Enright (7:14), Simon Lyndon (3:38) and Linda Cropper (4:21). These were presumably recorded at the time the film was made, as Enright died in 2003. Otherwise, there is a nothing-much making-of featurette (3:54) which features interview footage duplicated from the previous extra. Incidentally, although this featurette is in 4:3, the extracts from the film itself are in non-anamorphic 16:9. A trailer (2:07) and a TV spot (0:32) are also letterboxed, just to let us know that this is meant to be a widescreen film. The TV spot features a voiceover from what must be the Aussie equivalent of Mr Bass-Voiced Trailer Guy. Finally, there’s a goof reel (9:13), filmed by actors Simon Lyndon, Laurence Breuls and Cameron Nugent during the shooting of Blackrock’s surfing sequences. It also features Steven Vidler in acting mode, surfing in an extract from the 1990 film Harbour Beat, directed as it happens by David Elfick.
Given Heath Ledger’s recent untimely death, it may be that this film will have more attention than it has had. As such, it’s worth looking out for. Steven Vidler shows some directing ability here which he has not yet (as of 2008) followed up. This DVD is acceptable, bearing in mind it’s full-frame open-matte instead of anamorphic, but I suspect you’ll wait in vain for a better one.
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