Australian crime drama makes men of gods and monsters
By Richard Whittaker, 2:04AM, Sun. Sep. 23, 2012
When gods fall, they are just old men, plummeting to Earth. Wild eyed, wild haired, caught in fury and powerlessness. That's the lesson of ancient religions, and the lesson of Hail, an extraordinary tone poem of love and self-destruction.
Danny (Daniel P. Jones) is an aging feral beast, a drunkard and repeat offender of unknown crimes, fresh out of jail and back into the adoring arms of his love, Leanne (Leanne Campbell.) They're like puppies that never grew up, cuddling one moment, snarling the next when she won't hand him a screwdriver so he can stab someone. In a younger couple, this would be childish stupidity: But Danny and Leanne are in their fifties, and theirs is a love affair of scars and unbreakable bad habits. She is the closest thing he has to redemption, and yet she is as fragile and mortal as he is. Their fall is foretold: It's the form of it that must be played out.
Director Anton Courtin-Wilson's obsession with the redemption of criminals began with his award-winning documentary Basterdy, but here he blends fact and fiction (a little like Fantastic Fest 2011 oddity Aardvark.) Like Athena sprang from Zeus' head, the narrative and the dialogue spring from his conversations with Jones. A former convict and member of the Plan-B theatre company for ex-offenders, the narrative is a 'what-if' exploration of Jones' life if he had kept making bad decisions.
It's not just that Daniel Jones is Danny, and Danny is Daniel. His is an explosive and measured performance, drawn in blood from his own experience, but filtered through an understanding of the medium. Danny is like Daniel's bastard brother, all the worse choices he could make given blood-stained flesh. It's not just brave: It's a masterclass in naturalistic acting, from a man who knows the smell of nature's red teeth and claws. It's matched by Campbell, whose child-like love for the aging infant is undercut by her own emotional turmoil. There's nothing explicit about their shared history, but instead they transmit volumes through the crushing weight of implication.
Courtin-Wilson portrays this with intimacy, but also with scale. Danny's inevitable collapse is a slumland Götterdämmerung, and with reason: The gods were cruel, brutal, venal, and without self control or mercy - kind of like Danny. Pitched somewhere between the middle-aged self destruction of Peter Mullan in My Name is Joe and Matthias Schoenaerts' wounded masculinity that ripped and roared through Bullhead, Danny is a portrait in self-destruction. He is caught in mid-flight, like Wotan crashing to the ground as the world serpent consumes the cosmos.
Fantastic Fest presents Hail, D: Amiel Courtin-Wilson, 104 mins. Sunday, Sept. 22, 11:45am; Tuesday Sept. 25, 6.30pm.