Inspired by real events.
The film is set in the 1930s, North Australia. High Ground follows two men who both have a past filled with pain and hurt. Travis (Simon Baker) is a gun for hire and a skilled bounty hunter. Daily, he is filled with guilt and is haunted by his dark past. He also seeks redemption for his wrongdoings. The second man is a young indigenous man named Gutjuk (Jacob Junior Nayinggul), whose past includes witnessing his own family get brutally murdered when he was just a young boy. From being a sole survivor as a child, Gutjukwas taken away from his village and put under the care of another. As Gutjuk becomes a young man, he receives word that his uncle, Baywara, is still alive and is currently a wanted man for crimes around the Northern Territory. Now, both Travis and Gutjuk will team up and work together to try to save the last of his family. The question is, can these two men work together, trust one another, and find peace from their dark past?
High Ground is a brutal film and a gritty revenge tale. I cannot deny the film can be unsettling at moments due to the dramatic themes and because its story is based on actual events. The action here is also quite violent and realistic. The visuals and filming style are a knockout. Filming styles, including close-ups and use of drones or overhead shots, have been used to show off Australian landscape and animals. The sound design and effects are brilliant. Sounds such as gunshots and other environmental noises (such as grass, wind, bees, birds) are all positives in the film. The sound effects here also help create added tension and suspense during critical moments.
Performances are solid, particularly from Jacob Junior Nayingul as Gutjak. Gutjak as a character is dealing with many challenges as a young man, along with having to make hard choices such as who can he trust and which side should he take. Other actors including Simon Baker, Jack Thompson, Aaron Pedersen and Callan Mulvey all bring something fresh, and I feel they were rather convincing on screen.
The film begins with a gruesome, heartbreaking first act, and a general plot is set up shortly after. The film’s pace for me would best be described as a slow-burning revenge tale, and it is filled with unpredictable and tense moments. The pacing, while it is slow, never felt dull. I will admit there was a moment in the film that felt like a final climax, but to my surprise a final, second climax was yet to come. Some edits also seemed questionable as scenes ended and suddenly cut to a shot of birds flying. Moments like this felt out of place and abrupt. While images of animals certainly look real for most of the film, there was one moment, including flying birds which did make me question if it was CGI and not real.
Overall, this is a gruesome and gritty revenge tale which is based on actual events. The film’s plot is engaging and unpredictable. Performances are stable, and the film’s visuals along with all the use of sound effects are equally impressive. As the credits rolled, I was generally left feeling rather impressed and touched by what I had witnessed in my cinema. I was also surrounded by the silence of other viewers. While it is filled with unsettling moments, it’s certainly an Australian film worth supporting on the big screen.
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Review Written by Peter Walkden