Prime Mover Review
From a very young age, Thomas’s greatest ambition was to own a “prime mover”, or a long-distance truck, and to drive it just like his father (Andrew S. Gilbert) did. So much so that he borrows money to buy one. He meets and falls in love with Melissa (Emily Barclay) and they fall in love. But soon Thomas realises that he’s in over his head and his desperate attempts to make ends meet bring him into the clutches of moneylenders led by Johnnie (Ben Mendelsohn) and put his relationship with Melissa into jeopardy.
I’ve not seen David Caesar’s first feature Greenkeeping, but I reviewed his next three for this site. There’s a loud, brash side to his films which is most evident in the first and third of them, Idiot Box and Dirty Deeds. But when he turns down the volume a bit, there’s a warmth and a command of mood that makes a more lasting impression. That’s on display in the film he made in between, Mullet, which I listed as one of the ten best Australian films of the last decade.
Written by Caesar, Prime Mover is a comedy-drama that sits somewhere in between these two poles. It aims for a magic-realist, fairytale atmosphere from the start, with narration by Thomas’s father, a character who is actually dead for most of the story. Caesar goes for non-realist touches that sometimes work – Andrew S. Gilbert and Emily Barclay have second roles as St Christopher and a centrefold girl who do angel-and-devil battle for Thomas’s soul. At other times some of Caesar’s flourishes come across as simply heavy-handed: aureoles of light playing round Melissa when Thomas first catches sight of her, and Thomas visualising a lawyer’s head replaced by a maggot. More effective is the device of Anthony Hayes playing four different characters – which are in a way four manifestations of the same oppositional force. Hayes imitates different actors each time - he’s David Field here, then he’s Ray Winstone – and it’s easy to forget it’s the same man each time. Caesar regular Ben Mendelsohn is suitably imposing as the main antagonist.
There’s no doubt that this is very professional piece of work, slickly made and well acted. It was shot in HD rather than film, and Hugh Miller’s camerawork emphasises gleaming bright colours and the desert locations in and around Dubbo, New South Wales. Prime Mover is not a long film, though it devotes a little too much of its first half to the story of Thomas and Melissa’s meeting, falling in love, marriage and parenthood. Some violence in the latter stages is a little too strong for the film's tone. How charming you find this film will depend on your view of the protagonist. Thomas is immature, irresponsible (with other people’s money as well as his own), unrealistic and soon completely in over his head – but we’re meant to be on his side because he has dreams. If you buy that, this film is for you. Otherwise you may wonder why Melissa doesn’t just dump him and how much trouble would be avoided if he simply sold the truck. Thomas has learned some lessons by the time the end credits roll, but it may not be enough.
Prime Mover is released by Madman Entertainment on a single dual-layered DVD encoded for Region 4 only.
The DVD transfer is in the ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. This is a transfer from a HD source of a brand-new film, so no great issues are expected or found. The definition is a little less detailed than a 35mm-shot film would have been, and the picture doesn't really look filmlike, but that's to be expected. However, it appears that the cinematic aspect ratio was 2.35:1 (see the extracts in the featurettes on this disc, and the deleted scenes) and this is not the first DVD I’ve seen where the image has been opened up to a narrower ratio for home viewing. Given Caesar’s presence on this DVD, I suspect this change is with his approval, but I would rather have had the cinematic ratio.
The soundtrack is available in either Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Surround (2.0). Of the two, the 5.1 is the one to go for, with a fair number of directional effects. There’s a notable subwoofer moment as the main title comes up and a truck rumbles past.
The extras begin with a David Caesar commentary, a worthwhile chat that conveys a lot of detail of the filmmaking process from beginning to end, with considerable appreciation of his cast and crew’s input.
Next up are four short featurettes. In “Keeping the Magic Real” (3:31), Caesar discusses the non-naturalistic, heightened feel he was aiming for in this film. “Pinstriping: A Dying Art” (4:00) is an appreciation of this painting method, used for decorating the trucks, which features in the film. “On Location in Dubbo” (3:16) and “The Four Faces of Tony Hayes” (3:06) speak for themselves. There is a Play All option.
Five deleted scenes are next: “First Day” (3:15), “Johnny’s Road Train” (1:51), “Something to Eat” (1:41), “The Diner” (1:33) and “Freedom” (0:50), again with a Play All option. David Caesar provides an optional commentary for the first four.
The extras are completed by two 30-second TV spots, the theatrical trailer (1:52) and single screens devoted to Prime Mover merchandise and the soundtrack CD. Finally, there is some Madman propaganda, preceded by the usual anti-piracy ad: trailers for Balibo, Last Ride, My Year Without Sex and Love the Beast.