River Street

(Tony Mahood, Australia, 1997)


Scratching my head throughout River Street, I wondered: for whom is this film made?


Although it aspires to the condition of hard-hitting, truth-telling drama, it comes off like another, contemporaneous Australian release, Blackrock (1997) – a simplistic moral tale seemingly designed for teen classroom discussion.


Every element of the story is polarised into black and white. Ben (Aden Young) is a ruthless real estate agent who talks only about money, money, money. His bourgeois world is affluent, complacent, mildly decadent. Down in the lower depths of Richmond, however – where Ben finds himself exiled – the proletarian street kids, community workers and grandmothers are shining souls. As someone raised in Richmond myself, I was not won over by this idealistic mythologising of a suburb.


There is a brief, satisfying passage in which Ben loses more and more of his dignity, a little like the hero of a Blake Edwards comedy (Blind Date, 1987). Only here does Young – an actor in severe need of careful direction, which he so rarely receives from auteurs including Paul Cox – chime in well with the action.


Unfortunately, most of the running time is devoted to a tiresome, easy tale of moral redemption, family values and supposedly authentic, streetwise experience – almost none of which rings true. The world of the movie is lazily divided between aggro father-figures (Bill Hunter scowls accordingly) and gentle, saving women. We’ve been here before, many a time.


Like many Australian productions, River Street lacks narrative and cinematic oomph. The film does little with its clichés – including a terrible moment when Ben, realising the error of his ways, crushes the broken glass from a fatal car accident into his hand.


Worst of all, director Tony Mahood (no other feature films have followed in his career) and writer Philip Ryall (a Neighbours TV-soap veteran from the ‘80s) give us a ponderous voice-over narration that dutifully spells out everything that is already (very) plain and obvious in the images.

© Adrian Martin July 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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