(Steven Vidler, Australia, 1997)


There is a moment in Blackrock when a gruff detective (Chris Haywood) shoves the gruesome photos of a brutally raped and murdered girl in the face of young Jared (Laurence Breuls) and aggressively inquires: “How does that rate on our grunge scale, eh?”

It is entirely unbelievable, quite risible line, and it sums up all the problems that bedevil this movie.

This is another Social Issue movie, a tale that dramatises moral quandaries in the manner of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. And, like the 1996 screen version of that piece, it seems designed (or destined) only for secondary classroom use, where it can be readily reduced to its point-by-point schema.

Blackrock valiantly takes on important, real issues – its good intentions cannot be doubted. Rape, the breakdown of community bonds, dysfunctional families, educational decline – all are arranged in this story like pieces on a chess board. Adapted by Nick Enright from his play, it is a stagey, theatrical piece just in the way that Cosi (1996) and Hotel Sorrento  (1995) are – not in the sense of being uncinematic, but because every character is a two-dimensional cut-out standing for a particular social attitude or way of life.

The biggest issue in this story is gender – specifically, masculinity. Here, too, I find the classroom-pointer approach of the film risible. The film presents an ocker masculinity to which few male viewers could truly relate; there is nothing really truthful, compelling or disturbing about it. Jared defends his allegiance to his gang-raping buddies thus: “We guys … we got mates … and that’s all we’ve got!” The problem with masculinity is depicted in an hysterical, tabloid-like fashion: the bad-apple guys are punch-drunk, emotionally vacant, sexually rapacious and borderline-psychotic.

Debuting director Steven Vidler (best known as an actor) tries to give energy and conviction to this holier-than-thou script. In the end, however, it still looks like an episode of TV’s Heartbreak High, with kids earnestly shouting slogans at each other over the gender barricades while pop music plays on the soundtrack and accelerated edits attempt to whip the show along smoothly.

Blackrock may have its heart in the right place, but it takes more art and craft to make a persuasive, enthralling movie.

© Adrian Martin May 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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