This film is a textbook example of going into production without a finished
script. The superficiality and structural defects you find in this
Australian made film could only have come from a bare outline. That anything
appealing survives such weak material is a testament to the collaborative
power of film.
Mostly, it's Toni Collette who pulls it off, much as she was probably
depended on to do. The drive to go into production seems largely based on her
ability to take a bare treatment and convey a dimensional character, a feat
of creating on the fly that demonstrates something about her instincts and
appeal. But, ultimately, the mark of low budget desperation deprives the
movie from realizing the fun and poignancy of a promising romantic
As a geologist and partner in a small software company in Perth, Sandy
Edwards (Collette) is asked by Baird (Matthew Dyktynski), the other partner,
to accompany Tachibana Hiromitsu (Gotaro Tsunashima), a Japanese business
executive, on a visit to inspect Australian mines. Baird's idea is that this
accomodation will influence Hiromitsu's company to buy their computer program
and inject some sorely needed capital into the firm's cash flow.
Immediately upon Hiromitsu's landing, the cultural and personal differences
between him and Sandy is obvious: she a rather direct and overly-capable
female with a stubborn personality, he a wimpy, rigid, formal type who sees
her as nothing more than a driver the company has provided for his
adventure. His attitude of superiority over his "glorified tour guide"
grates on Sandy with growing irritation as she dutifully responds to his
demands to drive out to the Jilbara, a desert that becomes more hostile than
the atmosphere in the car.
Sandy's warnings to her traveling companion about the difficulties of driving
on the barely defined sand road results in their becoming stuck and, as
they face this and other challenges, a thawing and mutual understanding
breaks down the initial frigidity, ultimately leading to romantic discovery
and the disclosure that he has a wife and children back home. Sandy accepts
the reality but, just as happiness and fulfillment are being realized,
tragedy strikes, leading to a last act that becomes an opera of extended
Not that that won't play well in Japan, where loss and emotional deprivation
is as well received as rice, but what about the rest of the world's markets?
The Japanese capacity for a complete immersion in emotional devastation is
legendary and this film's extended ending in conformity with that sensibility
makes me wonder if there wasn't a Japanese investment in this project
important enough to demand a catering to their dramatic taste. The story
itself grinds to a virtual halt while the emotions, not the ore, are
mined for all they're worth to violin-heavy orchestral accompaniment.
Yumiko Tanaka as Hiromitsu's classically reserved wife is wholly appropriate
to the requirements of that part of the story.
Much of this synopsis is inferred rather than witnessed from the
under-expressed screen material. It isn't clear that Sandy and Baird are
trying to sell software anymore than it's clear that they are ex-lovers.
Maybe I missed something but, then, I missed so much. There is nothing, for
example, to even suggest that this geologist knows a rock from a robot. In a
scene when Sandy and Hiromitsu pause to rest in a rocky enclave that might be
a geologist's wet dream, he picks up a rock that has unique striations. A
perfect time for Sandy to wow us (and him!) with a little geologist tech
talk. She is still trying to get him to buy her product. But,
no, that opportunity doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone.
Even when the pair is visiting the BHP Billiton working iron ore mine at
Newman there isn't a single word coming out of her mouth to indicate that
she is any more expertise in mining than a wide-eyed tourist. Whoever on this
creative crew thought it wasn't essential to convince us that her specialized
knowledge extends beyond that of company driver is in sore need of
Screenwriting 101 and a few dozen viewings of "Lantana", a huge Australian success in 2001.
Collette is a talent of considerable
range, as proven by her American lawyer Michelle in "Changing Lanes", her suicidal
British hippy Fiona in "About A Boy", her intense mother Lynn Sear in "The
Sixth Sense", and her American housewife Kitty in "The Hours." Her essential
quality is a gutsy earthiness, which is attractive in a leading lady as
well as a lure to many a supporting role.
But here she's paired with a physically slender leading man with little to no
charisma and the virility of an adolescent. What were these people
thinking... or was this miscast part of the Japanese investors' package?
Okay, so he's acted before in Australia (TV mini-series "Changi"), but
where's Jet Li when he's needed?
The failures abound, but I can't say this movie coming to us from the colorful
outposts of Australia is a waste of time. When all is said and absorbed
after the exhaustion of a finale that's as fatiguing as a coda in a 1,000
page Russian novel, there is a lingering bond to Collette that she manages to
pull out of the meager outline provided. Other positive virtues include
exploring a cross-cultural attraction and the travelogue value of a journey
through a rarely seen area controlled and cared for by indigenous peoples.
~~ The Filmiliar Cineaste