TJ is a mad bastard. Except that he’s not really mad. He’s more sad and angry and frustrated and conceited and rueful and anguished. And he’s not really a bastard, either. He’s just a man, really. He can be cruel and stupid and violent. But he can also be remorseful and forgiving and tender.
Still, Mad Bastards is a better name for the movie than Sad Young Man.
TJ’s life in the city is being ripped apart by a cyclone of drinking, fighting and hating. By some hidden inspiration of grace, he all of sudden decides that the only way to get his life together is to reunite with his estranged 13-year-old son Bullet, who lives with his mum in Five Rivers, a small township in the Kimberly region.
What follows is a roadtrip up from Perth. It looks stunning. The open country is shot not to accentuate its grand desolation, but to make it bright and alive. Similarly, in the Kimberlys, the country expresses an exuberance that contrasts pointedly with the bleak and irascible moods that overtake all the main characters at one point of another.
The cast are drawn from Aboriginal communities in the far northwest. The characters they portray and the stories they tell are their own. This, combined with the fact that they are mostly untrained, makes their performances oddly attenuated, a stuttering effect which prevents us from being completely drawn into the fiction, allowing us to keep in mind that there is a reality beyond what we see on the screen which these people have lived it.
The various stories, characters and experiences are glued together by writer/director Brendan Fletcher in a super-viscous solution of narrative melodrama. The story arc is a cringingly facile story of redemption which, but for the curious ghost of reality behind it, would have been pretty forgettable. In seeking to impose unity across the various stories and characters, Fletcher might have done better to rely on the visual and aural aesthetics, rather than a formulaic plot.
The soundtrack alone lends the movie more integral identity and individuality than any of the hokum moments of narrative crisis. The wonderful collaboration between Alex Lloyd and Broome music legends the Pigram Brothers resolves the characters and the country into a purer and more beautiful sense of sentiment than any plot development could, and captures, I think, the best spirit of this project.
More on Australian film? Inside Film