The Life of Harry Dare

(Aleksi Vellis, Australia, 1995)


Two years after being unveiled at the 1995 Melbourne Film Festival, The Life of Harry Dare limped into a single theatre. In an exceptionally poor year for Australian movies, it was actually one of the more sparkling and diverting efforts on offer. But, all the same, it is a frustrating affair.

The plot takes the form of a whimsical tall tale mixing elements of detective fiction, Aboriginal mythology, family drama and slice-of-life social observation. Harry (John Moore) spends most of the film pursuing his stolen – and apparently possessed – kombi van. This journey involves him with the local cops, a range of colourful pals and enemies, and especially his feisty son Jim (Aaron Wilton).

Aleksi Vellis is a talented, spirited director whose Nirvana Street Murder (1991) impressed many film lovers. (Later he would have the workman's task of helming Nick Giannopoulos' comedy The Wog Boy [2000].) His essential contribution to Harry Dare is a heightened, cheeky, lightly ironic tone – with an excellent score by David Hirschfelder (Shine, 1996) that emphasises the affectionate homages to the '60s Australian television series Homicide and American B movies of the '50s.

But even Vellis cannot do much with the lamer elements of Gerald Thompson's script. While it kicks around Aboriginal and ethnic stereotypes, the film maintains its level of fun. However, a plot development involving the local drug problem – and a bunch of supposedly hip Anglo dealers and users whose fashion sense is over ten years late – puts the film into a sad, downward spiral.

By the end, the film resembles nothing so much as a Disney telemovie for kids, sprinkled with a few contemporary, adult references to race relations, substance abuse, dysfunctional families and techno music. Neither a full-blooded social satire nor a cute Aussie version of Ghost Dad (1990), The Life of Harry Dare dwells in that frustrating middle-ground where so many Australian films go to die.

© Adrian Martin July 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
home    reviews    essays    search