Saturday, August 15, 2009

Day 205: The Last Wave (1977) - Rank 5/5


Peter Weir's follow-up to "Picnic at Hanging Rock" bears no real connection to its predecessor other than tone. Weir's focuses once more on the juxtaposition of Aboriginal spiritualism and the unknown against the modern day realm of white cities and "rational" thought. But even though Weir has shifted away from making this tale a period piece as he did with "Picnic," the supernatural (I hesitate to use that word, because it typically conjures up mental images of ghosts and goblins and no such creatures are featured here) seems all the more startling in the downtown setting of a crowded Australian city.

Central to the plot is the relationship between Chris Lee (David Gulpilil - possibly the only Aboriginal character actor around), one of four Aborigines accused of killing one of their own, and the pragmatic David Burton (Richard Chamberlain in a role that reminds you that he really is an excellent actor, given the ideal opportunity). Burton is determined to save Chris and his cronies from a jail sentence by proving that it was a matter of tribal law, but in order to do so, he must learn why they killed the man they did. And should Burton learn this information, he will be required to suffer a similar fate.

Premonitions plague Burton, grappling with his pragmatic and rational approach to life - visions that appear to be warnings of darker things to come. Far more unsettling is the way Weir utilizes the weather to build atmosphere for his film. There's a freak hail storm that nearly tears down a school house, despite the fact that it's sunny outside, with not a cloud in the sky. The rain draws out countless frogs, and the droning chirps of the creatures create an eerie undertone to the raging storm, much like a door squeaking on its hinges in an abandoned home. In fact, the weather is so integral to the plot and the atmosphere of dread that is generated, you're left feeling as if the rain should have received billing under Chamberlain. While Weir has created excellent films since his early days (ranging from "Witness" to "The Truman Show" and "Master and Commander"), it's his early films that impress me the most. While I'm sure he enjoys the comfort of large Hollywood budgets in this day and age, both "The Last Wave" and "Picnic at Hanging Rock" instill a fervent hope within me that one day he will return to his roots as an independent filmmaker and shoot a smaller project in his native Australia once more.

Watch the Trailer

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