West of Sunshine Review
West of Sunshine spends one day with Jimmy (Damien Hill) and his son Alex (Ty Perham - who is the real-life stepson of Hill) following the father en route as he completes his courier deliveries. Jimmy's heart may be in the right place but he's let life knock him around a bit too much, gambling away a marriage to a woman he still pines for, which is just one of the many casualties his addiction has accounted for over the years.
It's a problem that hangs over the time spent with Alex as local loan shark Banos (Tony Nikolakopoulos) breathes down his neck demanding the $15k he owes is paid that same day. Jimmy seems to have a plan to settle the debt in the belief his natural optimism will contrive to keep his neck above water once again. But these things rarely work out as planned and on this occasion it looks like a bubble just begging to be burst.
Where Karel Reisz's The Gambler gave us hope and desperation as seen through the eyes of James Caan entering into his prime, West of Sunshine's slim character study relies on a script as light as its 80 minute run time and suffers badly because of it. Both Hill and Perham do what they can to place us inside the vintage car they journey in from morning to evening, but director Jason Raftopoulos leans on too many of the usual tropes for the outcome of events to really matter.
Most of the problems occur in the second half of the film when more is expected of the story to put the various pieces of the narrative into the right places. We can see Alex is a little reluctant to spend time with his father because of his unreliability and despite Jimmy being somewhat frayed at the edges he has a genuine affection for his son. Although it must be said - without being too discrediting towards Raftopoulos - that much of the naturalism we see between the two will certainly have come from the bond they share off screen.
The irony shouldn't be missed that Raftopoulos' direction never produces the same level of stakes that continue to stack up against Jimmy. Once the father/son relationship has been established the peripheral players who are used to strip away Jimmy's fading chances amount to very little, and only further emphasis an over-reliance on Hill and Perham to perform beyond the limitations the script places on them.
Cinematographer Thom Neal brings the warm Melbourne sunshine out of the sky and into the heated tensions of the car, while Lisa Gerrard's score follows the typical indie film template a little too closely at times. There is a stronger film waiting to breakout here but an unwillingness to roll the dice and take a chance on its characters means it just about breaks even by the end.
West of Sunshine plays at the East End Film Festival on April 19th. Check out the festival website to find out more.