Since my last entry, several new interviews, reviews and promotional pieces for The Healing have been made available. The most in-depth of these focus on what many viewers are calling the film’s “real stars”, its birds of prey (and their handler, Andrew Payne.)
Pinnacle Films continues its lovely series of promotional clips with this 12-minute profile of Payne and the birds he worked with for the film:
720 ABC Perth‘s John McGlue, who conducted the best of the Hugo Weaving interviews connected with this film, went to the Karnet Prison Farm for an extended interview with director Craig Monahan (and others who worked on/were consulted for the film) to discuss the real-life bird/prisoner rehab programs that inspired the film. (You can hear the birds chattering away in the background.)
FilmReviews.net/Movies At Dusk/Greg King features another in-depth, very interesting interview with Craig Monahan (35 minutes long!). There’s a brief Don Hany interview at In My Community. And scene-stealer Mark Leonard Winter (and the film’s rats) finally get a profile of their own courtesy Moviehole.
Here are excerpts from the latest batch of reviews (including links back to original sites):
Kirstey Whicker, Glam Adelaide: “The latest film by Director Craig Monaghan (The Interview, 1998), Healing, is a powerful outdoor drama that shows the healing influences of animals which go beyond the traditional rehabilitation techniques for prisoners…
This is a magnificently shot film. Academy Award winning cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (Lord of the Rings trilogy) has used spectacular shots of the birds soaring over the Victorian fields, almost taking the attention of the actors!… 8.5 out of 10”
Don Hany, Hugo Weaving in a scene from Healing (Photo: Cairns Post)
Giles Hardie, Fliks.com.au: “The performances by all are excellent… Healing is not a prison film; there are no shivs or beatings. It is not a bleak rumination on the imprisoned spirit. And it is not given extra credit for being an Australian film as it is dissimilar to any in recent memory. It is an inspiring, intelligent and soaringly gorgeous feel-good movie that will reward all who see it on the big screen.”
Mandy Griffiths, Moviehole: “The film unites Hugo Weaving and director Craig Monahan (“The Interview”) for the third time, and it is hard to think of another film where he is so understated and relaxed in his role. His performance is pitch perfect for the gruff but caring authoritarian figure, providing real heart and understanding to a character struggling with his own personal tragedy, without verging too far into sentimental land. Indeed all the performances are natural and pleasing, with relative newcomer Mark Leonard Winter standing out for his distinct take on character surviving at the bottom of the food chain.”
Mad Dog Bradley, Rip It Up: “And it’s hard to know which are more engaging here: the subtle performances from the cast, especially Hany, or the birds themselves, shown in all their feathery glory and with only the barest minimum of FX or trickery. But perhaps it doesn’t matter, as both help make Monahan’s film soar.”
Peter W Sheehan, ffrick.org (also in CathNews):: “[Hugo] Weaving captures brilliantly the conflicts involved in being someone in authority who cares for others, but has the responsibility for disciplining them as well…
This is a hope-filled film that has a dramatic tale of redemption to tell. It is entertaining, enjoyable, and educational, and there is a moving truth to its telling that is memorable. So far this year, this is the best Australian movie to come down the cinema track.”
Cairns Post has printed one of the most enthusiastic reviews for the film; you can read the online version here, but I’ve embedded the print version below because it included a nice, big film still featuring Hugo’s character. (WordPress users: right-click image, then click “open in a new tab/window” for full-sized article)
Here’s an ad for Healing that’s run in several Australian newspapers:
While Hugo Weaving has been avoiding the spotlight since participating in Healing interviews and photo sessions at the beginning of the month, a few not-too-old pics of him promoting another Australian indie film (Tim Winton’s The Turning) have surfaced courtesy the Australian Embassy in Berlin, Germany’s Facebook page. These photos of Hugo with Australian Ambassador to Germany David Ritchie at an Australian Embassy Berlinale party back on 11 February:
Cannes Yields Distribution Deals For Tim Winton’s The Turning, The Mule
Several of Hugo Weaving’s recent films (completed and in post-production) are in the mix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, though none are being formally screened. Instead, they’re being shopped for international distribution deals. Two films have already secured new or additional distribution in the first few days of the festival:
According to Screen International, LevelK will finally oversee Tim Winton’s The Turning’s US distribution in partnership with Main Street Films. Yes, the film was released seven months ago in Australia, and many of us already own the Australian DVD or Blu-Ray… but the film’s complex vision and visual grandeur surely deserve cinema screenings, and I hope the distributors are serious in achieving those. I’m sure they’ll also work out various VOD/Cable/Streaming deals, but that shouldn’t be the whole strategy. (According to the article, “The film has also sold to Russia/CIS (Russian Report), Benelux (FilmFreak), Turkey (Bir), China (JY) and airlines (Cinesky). Madman released in Australia.” It also screened in New Zealand last fall and, of course, at Berlinale. Its US premiere will be at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival May 25, 26 and 29. (Mystery Road and Healing will also screen at SIFF, so Hugo fans on the US west coast might want to plan the trip.)
Getting much more attention (which should tell you something about the tone of most movie sites, heh heh) is The Mule’s quick sale to a bunch of international markets, including ” US (XLrator Media), Germany (MFA), Switzerland (Ascot Elite), Greece (Filmtrade) and the former Yugoslavia (VIP Media)” according to Screen Daily, which broke the story. Deadline, ComingSoon.net and many other sites detailed the US distribution deal with XLRator Media, which is tentatively scheduling a fall release for the film. Coverage has been replete with the usual bodily-function puns. 😉
Strangerland is also being shopped around at Cannes, but as of 17 May no deals have been announced.
And speaking of international distribution, why is Well Go USA dragging its heels on Mystery Road’s US distribution? They secured the rights a long time ago, but thusfar all they’ve done is book a handful of more festival screenings. Better news for UK audiences, as Mystery Road’s Facebook page announced a possible June release there.
A couple of lovely surprises to share today: the first is a brand new nine-minute radio interview Hugo Weaving gave 720 ABC Perth. The second is a batch of photos our always-resourceful Sydney correspondent Yvette took at the opening of Nicholas Harding’s Drawing Godot exhibit in Sydney. Though both Harding and Weaving were unable to attend (and are possibly vacationing together with their families) Richard Roxburgh more than filled the void with insights, and witty anecdotes about Sydney Theatre Co’s production.
First that new radio interview; Hugo Weaving spoke over the phone with 720 ABC Perth’sJohn McGlue earlier today “about his movie Healing – and how we can all relate to it.” While most of the interview focused on the theme and working experience of making Healing, Hugo also mentioned his ten years working with Voiceless.org, the Australian animal welfare organization, and noted his goals when reading scripts and choosing projects. (No surprise– he prefers working on any project he finds challenging, be it in theatre, independent film or mainstream (big budget) film, but most enjoys home-grown, human-centric projects like his current film.)
After some of the frustrations we’ve experienced with questionably edited interviews, or radio stations who opted not to re-air or offer podcast versions, it’s wonderful ABC has made this available via Soundcloud, which can be readily embedded at both LJ and WordPress.
Meanwhile, Don Hany gave a video to Jim Schembri via 3AW 693 NewsTalk (Craig Monahan also appears near the end) :
HushHushBiz posted a selection of photos of Hany at the film’s 8 May Palace Cinemas (Adelaide) screening/Q&A.
And you can read the latest positive and/or thoughtfully-written reviews at A-List Reviews (“…a fine piece of Australian cinema”) and HushHushBiz (“…strong performances across the board and stunning cinematography”).
Healing continues to elicit mostly-positive reviews from both critics and audiences, but I’m saddened to read those audiences haven’t been as robust as they should be, according to Inside Film. I’m completely used to American viewers rushing out in droves to sophomoric Seth Rogen comedies and paint-by-numbers superhero flicks, but it’s depressing that audiences worldwide seem to want the same drivel. I really hope more people will give Healing a chance as positive word of mouth spreads.
But enough negativity: here are Yvette’s beautiful pics from the recent Drawing Godot opening at Olsen Irwin Galleries in Sydney. According to Yvette, “Rox’s warm and humorous speech touched everyone’s heart as always.”
WordPress readers: to see full-sized versions of the photos, right-click, then click “open in a new tab/window”.
All photos: Yvette ( @LyridsMC ) Sydney, 10 May 2014
Again, my eternal thanks to Yvette for sharing these. Yes, Olsen Irwin and Harding have generously posted the full exhibit catalog online, but virtual versions of the images give no sense of scale, or how the exhibit looked in situ, which is really quite interesting. Also, we could all use a bit more Roxburgh in our lives. 😉 (By the way, US viewers can finally view the first two seasons of Rake– the real one, not that now-canceled American imposter– on Netflix.)
She also confirmed that an international tour of STC’s Godot still remains a possibility for next year, though I must stress NOTHING OFFICIAL has been announced. I do have a bad feeling that New York might be the least-likely city for a reprisal because the area is still basking in the warm glow of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart’s amazing Two Plays In Rep version… and Stewart and McKellen themselves had to wait four years to reprise their London-Sydney production because a rival Godot featuring Nathan Lane and Bill Irwin was staged in NYC in 2009. Me, I’m not sure why we have to have waiting periods for this particular play when in any given year there are several competing Vanyas or Macbeths in the vicinity. I’d welcome the opportunity to watch the Weaving/Roxburgh Godot and the McKellen Stewart Godot back to back. I think great literature can stand a lot of re-interpretation. 😉
Speaking of the McKellen/Stewart Godot, the beloved UK series Theatreland, which covered the original London production of their Godot, is now available for streaming via Acorn TV and an NTSC DVD set will soon be available. Wish the STC production could be similarly immortalized so we fans could compare, contrast and just revel. 😉 It’s not an impossible dream– STC did commission the documentary film In The Company of Actors, which followed the progress of restaging Hedda Gabler in New York in 2006. A lot of us would also gladly fork over any disposable income for cinema simulcasts of just about any STC production. Wouldn’t that help with any of their financial shortfalls? 😉
Healing has now opened across Australia to a largely positive response, and new previews/promo materials continue to appear along with reviews. At times it’s been hard to keep up with everything, but for the most part it’s been quite exhilarating. I hope the film finds an audience at home and is picked up for substantial distribution worldwide.
I keep hoping that each of Hugo’s exquisitely-wrought performances in indie films will be the one that finally ends the “genre villain” stereotyping of his career by the mass audience; Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush and Ian McKellen have played their share of villain roles, but most people are aware of their character-driven work on stage and screen. Hugo hasn’t been as lucky, though plenty of determined fans do eventually seek out his lesser-known films. But it shouldn’t be such a challenge. Mystery Road, Little Fish, Oranges and Sunshine and particularly Last Ride rewarded cinema viewings, but precious few fans had that opportunity. (I only saw one in a traditional cinema release– Little Fish– and had to drive to New York City to do so. Two others I saw at film festivals and the other in a “special screening” at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. While there’s an infectious, “treasure hunt” aspect to finding these opportunities, too many fans are excluded. Proof and Priscilla got reasonably wide arthouse releases in their day, but these days distributors seem pathetically risk-averse. Even films that were huge hits in Australia (The Sapphires, Animal Kingdom, Red Dog) got minor arthouse exposure in a few US cities.
ANYHOW… sorry to go on like that, but I’m hoping– perhaps naively– that Healing will have better luck. If I have to read one more tweet to the effect that “Hugo Weaving only plays villains” I may have to kill somebody myself. I know some fans only want more of the same from their favorite actors, but a substantial majority wants to be surprised now and then.
Hugo Weaving is front and center in Pinnacle Films‘ latest lovely promotional clip. He discusses his character Matt and how he researched the film’s real-life program and setting.
There are minor plot spoilers, but nothing not established at the beginning of the film (and revealed in the trailers and most interviews and reviews):
Craig Monahan gave an insightful interview to Rip It Up, discussing the film, working with the birds and actors, and why his films seem to take ten years to reach fruition. (He does have at least two follow-ups in the early writing stages.) Here are his wonderful comments on teaming with Hugo Weaving for the third time, and the effect Hugo had on his younger costars:
“The obvious answer [to the question of whether Hugo is my ‘muse’] is: why not? Hugo doesn’t have an ego and he works very hard. Mark and Xavier, the two young guys in the film, they were there on the first day of filming and they were quietly going, ‘Hugo Weaving!’, as they grew up with The Matrix and stuff like that. And then we went out on location, and it wasn’t long until Hugo had his script out and he just squatted down in the dirt to make a few notes for himself… And he’s there, just sitting in the dirt, and Mark and Xavier looked at this and the penny just dropped and they realised that the film was serious but that Hugo was a real guy too. Mark and Xavier, you know, I don’t want to give the impression that they’re not serious actors, but this just broke down the barriers and upped the stakes. And we put Hugo, Don [Craig pronounces Don’s surname Hany as ‘Honey’], Mark and Xavier all in a house together, and it was convenient for us but it also meant that they could talk, eat together and whatever, and I think that shows in the film, as there’s a familiarity there that I really like.”
Monahan also gave a lengthy audio interview, which can be streamed or downloaded, to Radio Adelaide. Hany and bird-wrangler Andrew Payne discuss the challenges of working with their avian costars in The Sydney Morning Herald. Journalist Sandy George also interviewed Don Hany for SBS, covering not only the film, but his heritage, career beginnings and new opportunities.
Here are the latest review excerpts. As has been the trend in the past, some male reviewers feel a need to preface or justify their liking of the film via phrases like “yeah, it may be corny, but…” as if one must apologise for being moved by a film not explicitly about sports, nostalgia for one’s youth or the sort of self-realization attained after consuming too many alcoholic beverages. (Most “male weepies” contain at least one of these elements, many all three. Birds–even birds of prey– apparently require sheepish qualifiers.)
Matthew Toomey, The Film Pie: “At its heart, Healing is a story of forgiveness and rehabilitation. Viktor saves an injured falcon that became stuck in a barbed wire fence. With the approval of his correctional officer (Weaving) and a nearby animal sanctuary, he helps build an aviary that will house injured birds. They can then be nursed back to full health and released into the wild….
Healing is rough around the edges. It’s trying too hard to be a warm-hearted, feel-good story. It chooses not to delve too deeply into these characters’ darker pasts and it uses a one-dimensional bad guy (played by Anthony Hayes) to create sympathy for the protagonists. It’s a little formulaic, simplistic…
I still liked this film though. It has something to say about the importance of therapy (whatever the form) and the power of forgiveness. There’s much to reflect upon when leaving the theatre. Life is complicated and too often do we try to brush aside / ignore certain problems. The central performances of Hugo Weaving (who worked with director Craig Monahan on The Interview and Peaches) and Don Hany also deserve praise.”
Luke Buckmaster, The Guardian: “It’s not easy to make a mature film about men dealing with emotions in ways that don’t feel laboured, clichéd or arbitrary, and there is an organic wholeheartedness to Healing that helps it avoid being twee, thanks in part to a clutch of strong performances…
Weaving delivers a note-perfect performance as the prison guard whose big heart leads him closer to the duties of a social worker. Weaving, surely one of Australian cinema’s best assets, lifts scripts to dramatic heights other actors are incapable of reaching, which can both bolster supporting performances and make them look pale by comparison…
At its most simplistic, Healing feels like a glossy postcard drama, its pointy bits smoothed over by an unashamed sense of spirit and optimism. It is also a tender, thoughtful and inspiring film from an under-appreciated director.”
Anna Solding, InDaily: “This collaboration between director Craig Monahan (who also directed the interesting The Interview) and Academy Award-winning cinematographer Andrew Lesley (The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) makes for fascinating viewing. Where this film could easily have stayed superficial or strayed into clichéd territory, it manages to build up the characters up, trusting the audience to stay for the ride. It is a delight to behold…
The unusual subject matter, the realistic and at times humorous dialogue (which gives the film a distinctly Australian flavour), and strong performances from Hany and Weaving indicate Healing might become the Australian blockbuster of the year.. It is without a doubt the best Australian film I have seen for years.”
John Bale, The Blurb: “Weaving puts in another compassionate performance as the dedicated case worker with the firm belief that rehabilitating wounded raptors will equally reform inmates during their last months prior to release. Don Hany (Underbelly TV) with his rugged features makes a commanding presence as the brooding Viktor, revealing his gentle side as a bird whisperer in more lyrical moments. Viktor’s meeting with his son at last visiting him in the prison farm is a tightly emotional scene. Xavier Samuel (Adoration) also has a touching moment as the heartbroken Paul has to release his precious barn owl back into the wild. Mark Winter (Balibo) and Anthony Hayes (Burning Man) make suitably unpleasant villains…
Above all, it is the outstanding cinematography which lifts this redemption story of damaged creatures. Oscar winning cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, who shot The Lord of the Rings trilogy opens Healing with striking images of an eagle sweeping through trees, smartly intercut with inmates in a prison van heading to the correction facility. Throughout, the bird photography would do credit to David Attenborough….
Healing is a film with a big heart, lyrical yet laced with strong emotions. Music integrates well with the action, and film editor Suresh Ayyar is on his mettle. Credit must go to the bird handler training the actors to smoothly control the magnificent raptors, which Hany and Samuel manage with skill. Fans of Red Dog should find much to enjoy.”
Sharon Hurst, Cinephilia: “There is much to commend this film, Monahan’s third feature since The Interview in 1998 and Peaches in 2004. Perhaps most striking is the cinematography by Oscar-winner, Andrew Lesnie. Shot partly in the glorious Yarra Valley, the film’s look encompasses not only the mistily ethereal landscape of that place, but focuses intensely on the majesty of the birds, especially the eagle as it soars and plummets across the sky. Team this with David Hirschfelder’s haunting score and you get an impression of something that almost feels spiritual, so appropriate to this redemptive story. ..
Hany’s performance is compelling and it is remarkable that he successfully portrays someone so much older than his mere 40 years. Hany is a well-known face from his TV work but this transition to the large screen augers well for the talented actor. Supporting him is a strong cast of Australian notables. As a warder and de facto counsellor to the prisoners Weaving, who starred in both of Monahan’s previous films, brings tenderness to his role as Matt, a man carrying his own burden of personal tragedy. The other inmates are a mixed bag character-wise, but there is good development of each one and the acting is top-notch, especially notable being Victor’s room-mates, Shane (Mark Winter), a cocky youngster, and Paul (Xavier Samuel), a decent lad who did something really stupid while drunk…
The director is not afraid to take his time, letting the story develop gradually. The shots of the birds, especially Jasmine, make us feel they are also their own characters, and the gradual magic that is woven between the men and their feathered friends, seen in many telling close-ups, is an intensely moving thing. The actual use of Healesville Sanctuary and the Spirits of the Sky bird show should do a great ambassadorial job for the facility, but it is ultimately the genuinely moving story of the healing power of nature and compassion that makes this a film a cut above the usual.”
Chris Smith, Film Blerg: “The acting is uniformly excellent. Weaving, as you would expect by this point, gives a heartfelt performance as the guard who genuinely believes in the prisoners ability to better themselves, and Xavier Samuel once again follows up on the promise he’s been consistently establishing in the likes of Adoration and The Loved Ones, amongst others. The (until now) underutilized Don Haney, who seems to have been mostly confined to television, is however the beating heart and soul of the film. His portrayal as the conflicted and damaged Viktor is perfect; a work of true subtly that completely avoids any all too easy manipulation…
Issues of narrative and dialogue aside, Healing is an emotionally gripping film that will hopefully find the receptive audience it deserves.”
Jim Schembri, 3AW NewsTalk 693: “Admittedly, Healing is very heavy on metaphors and symbols, yet director Craig Monahan (The Interview) – who co-wrote the film with veteran tapper Alison Nisselle (Janus; Phoenix) inspired by a real prison program – never makes the obvious feel forced or mawkish. This might be due to the film’s leisurely pace…
It might also possibly have something to do with Hany’s restrained, soulful performance; he finds the heart of a broken man facing the challenge to accept and rejoice life in a life that has fallen far short of what he dreamt… Hugo Weaving [is] terrific in understated support.”
Dougal Macdonald, City News Canberra: “WRITER/director Craig Monahan’s cinematic oeuvre may be small but it is beautifully formed. “Healing” is his fourth film. As well as showing absolutely spectacular footage of Australian raptors, it delivers a strong narrative in which deep human emotions are manifested by their suppression…
Don Hany and Hugo Weaving as the prison officer who sees the prospects of the Viktor/Yasmine relationship deliver first-rate performances in a cast that never misses a beat. And Andrew Lesnie’s cinematography, especially of the birds and other native wildlife, is nothing short of superb, as we might expect from the man who lensed three big films for that Kiwi film maker, Sir What’s-‘ís-name.”
Sarah Ward, ArtsHub: ” The therapeutic bond between people and animals has made for engaging film fodder of all shapes and sizes, with Ken Loach’s Kes one of the great depictions across any genre. There, a kestrel taught a Yorkshire boy to cope with the hardships of youth; in Healing, great birds aid inmates in preparing for post-prison life. The comparison between the social realist classic and Craig Monahan’s lyrical tale of second chances quickly proves earned as well as appropriate…
In this story of redemption that takes the term jailbird quite literally, a familiar path is trodden, but the delights are in the details. The stereotypical subplot of tension – that sees the prison’s resident bully (Anthony Hayes, Secrets & Lies) enforce his might over Viktor’s helpers, including the sullen Paul (Xavier Samuel, Adoration) and nervous Shane (Mark Leonard Winter, The Boy Castaways) – both conforms to convention and provides texture for the film’s main drama. The trouble caused by interpersonal angst is a menacing but modest challenge to overcome. ..
Healing marks Monahan and Weaving’s third collaboration following 1998’s The Interview and the aforementioned Peaches, again demonstrating perceptiveness and poignancy in synchronicity, and again playing to the duo’s strengths. Overt in a style that values lingering, lyrical shots of the grace of winged creatures and the loveliness of the country landscape, but understated in the emotions of regret and restoration conjured, the filmmaker builds layers with patience rather than pace. His script, co-written with first-time film scribe and television veteran Alison Nisselle (Parer’s War), makes its case courtesy of the little things: kind exchanges, tentative steps forward, and efforts towards change, even those that aren’t successful. His visuals turn slivers of beauty and hope into the feature’s canvass…
In the lead roles, heartbreak ripples through the pairing of Weaving with Hany, the former nuanced and nimble, the latter simmering with the power of solemnity. The efforts of the feature’s animal wranglers also can’t be undersold, with the central feathered friends afforded personality that sells the bond with their carers beyond standard bounds. In Healing, as the birds and humans both tentatively step towards flight, the film soars with empathy and sincerity.”
Print Article Scans
Apologies for letting a backlog of these pile up, but it’s been a busy week. Most of these are print articles previewing or reviewing Healing; the first contains material not (yet) available online. The last is the print version of Sydney Morning Herald’s coverage of the Nicholas Harding Drawing Godot exhibit.
Note to WordPress Readers: to see full-sized versions, right-click, then click “open in a new tab/window”.
South Australia Weekly, 8 May
Play, 4 May 2014
Daily Telegraph, 7 May 2014
Sun Herald, 4 May 2014
SMH Spectrum, 3 May 2014
In Other Hugo Weaving News
Guardian writer Luke Buckmaster describes his responses in an interesting re-viewing of the 1994 classic The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
And, according to the Twitter feed of Sun-Herald writer Neala Johnson, Hugo’s next film The Mule, which made a big… I’m reluctant to say ‘splash’ 😉 at SXSW in March, has been “pencilled in for an October release in Oz “. The Mule’s Twitter feed retweeted the item, giving it credibility. When last heard from, the film’s creators were busy working on the trailer, so we might have a look at that soon.
Healing officially opens in Australia today, so a new batch of cast interviews and previews is appearing online. Though Hugo Weaving is currently on vacation, he apparently gave several interviews promoting Healing before he departed, some of which are only appearing now. Costar Don Hany also continues to promote the film to a wide variety of outlets. I’ll include the full text of the two new Hugo Weaving interviews below (behind the cut) and links to everything else:
Hugo Weaving has been playing extreme, audience-dividing characters ever since he first caught our attention in the famed Kennedy-Miller television mini-series Bodyline (1984), in which he impersonated the reviled MCC captain Douglas Jardine.
Whether these characters are sympathetic, such as the shrieking drag artist Mitzi del Bra in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert or Elrond Half-elven in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, or the flat-out villains – Agent Smith in The Matrix series, Red Skull in Captain America: First Avenger – they’re generally a world away from an ordinary man.In recent times, however, we’ve been seeing Weaving playing characters closer to blokes you might meet in everyday life, the polar opposite to the crackpot collection he incarnated in the ill-fated adaptation of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.
In Oranges and Sunshine he was deeply moving as the psychologically scarred English migrant who endured being taken from his mother and forced to toil for Catholic Church institutions in Australia; he was wonderfully inscrutable as a country cop in Mystery Road; and he communicated a world of hurt as Vic Lang’s reclusive, troubled father in the David Wenham-directed episode of Tim Winton’s The Turning.
“I enjoy playing these colourful, over-the-top characters but they are definitely not me,” Weaving says over the phone from Sydney, where he continues to live despite his flourishing international career.
“So it’s been a gift to have been given the opportunity to play men who are a little closer to me. It presents other challenges – you can’t hide behind a mask and you are forced to draw upon yourself – but it allows you to explore nuances of character.”
His move from the margins to the middle, character-wise, continues with Healing, a modest yet quietly effective Australian drama set on a prison farm that prepares prisoners for going back into society.
Weaving plays Matt Perry, a stern but sympathetic senior officer who puts a tightly wound Iranian inmate named Viktor Khadem (Don Hany) in charge of a program to rehabilitate injured eagles, falcons and owls.
Viktor is coming to the end of a long sentence for murder and doesn’t want to mix with the other prisoners. Matt feels that putting him in charge of the program – in particular, caring for a majestic wedge-tailed eagle with a 2m wing span named Yasmine – will draw Viktor out and, in turn, his strong work ethic will be a good influence on the younger prisoners, who are being preyed upon by opportunistic old hands.
Healing is the third time that Weaving has worked with co-writer and director Craig Monahan, who made a sensational feature film debut in 1998 with The Interview and followed up in 2004 with Peaches.
Apart from the desire to work again with Monahan, with whom he has forged a very productive director-actor relationship, Weaving says he was drawn to Healing because it showed a positive side of the prison system.
“Movies about prisons are almost always about thuggish, unfeeling guards and brutalised prisoners and little hope that anyone will change. Healing celebrates the people who do good work in the system. It shows them as concerned with the welfare of the inmates and the possibility of rehabilitation and a new life.”
The role is arguably the closest Weaving has come to a regular guy in the classic Hollywood mould, a steely, quietly spoken figure who has his own problems at home but heroically stands up for Hany’s Viktor.
“Matt is definitely one of the most subdued characters I’ve played. We don’t learn much about Matt but he has layers. The challenge of a part like this is to communicate what’s not on the page but implied. It’s what great screen acting is all about.”
Monahan was inspired to make Healing after reading an article in The Age in 1998 about a program at Won Wron, a minimum- security facility near Yarram in Victoria, to see if prisoners could rehabilitate injured birds of prey to return to the wild.
Authorities were sceptical at first because it went against what was deemed acceptable work for prisoners. However, it turned out to be a success and, while Won Wron closed in 1994, the raptor rehabilitation program continues elsewhere.
Monahan and his long-time collaborator Alison Nisselle were instantly taken by the story of Won Wron.
They were struck by the notion that taking responsibility for looking after a wild animal had the capacity to change someone’s life. “That always seemed very profound to us,” Monahan told The Age.
Weaving says that Monahan gave him the Healing screenplay while they were filming Peaches, so he has been involved not just in the evolution of the script, providing criticism and feedback, but familiarising himself with the bird program.
“I think I said to him a few years ago ‘Just don’t change your mind on this one’,” Monahan recalls. “And he never has. He’s such a gentleman and a pleasure to work with.”
He is also one of the few actors of the golden generation that gave us Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger and Geoffrey Rush who has consistently worked in Australia on screen and stage despite being an integral part of some of the biggest franchises in movie history and the most cherished cult movies.
The unfalteringly gracious and articulate Weaving embraces his entire oeuvre – he even believes the maligned Cloud Atlas will be properly appreciated in years to come – and is happy to move between the mega-movies and the smaller home-grown projects. And he is excited by his role as Macbeth in an upcoming Sydney Theatre Company production.
“Playing comic-book villains and ordinary Australians each has its pleasure and challenges. You do one and it makes you anxious to do the opposite,” he says.
CJ here: This is a case where I’d really love to see the full transcript of what was specifically asked and what Hugo said in response, because some of his comments here are directly at odds with most other interviews he’s done over the past few years, which strongly implied he was done with “cartoon villain” roles and big-budget American films. I hope the last comment is an explanation of why he’s mostly done Australian indies of late rather than an indication he intends to take on the sort of insultingly one-dimensional roles Hollywood would give him.
I do think he’s probably trying to reaffirm that he doesn’t regret any of his past choices, because a few interviews in 2012 were widely misconstrued by Marvel and Transformers fans as dissing of those projects, but in fact Hugo never meant any insult and only was trying to distance himself from playing the same character over and over. Obviously he’s not finished playing villains, as The Mule and even Macbeth demonstrate. (The Mule will probably be a very broad villain role.) And the character Hugo has been connected to in early reports about Glendyn Ivin’s possible next feature film, One Foot Wrong, would also be a nasty piece of work if the movie stays true to the book. So he’s very much maintaining variety in his career. I just don’t ever need to see him do another Marvel project, play a Star Wars villain or do evil robot voiceovers which distort his voice beyond all recognition. There are, of course, talented directors who do big-budget films too. I’d love to see Hugo work with Guillermo del Toro or any non-Tolkien work Peter Jackson might move on to. It could also easily be argued that American television offers more opportunities for fascinating, textured characters– good, bad and in between– than the increasingly adolescent-directed film industry.
As far as the Wachowskis are concerned: I loved The Matrix and thought Agent Smith was a brilliant character, brilliantly performed. But Cloud Atlas gave Hugo no characters of meaningful depth to work with (though some were entertaining), and the Wachowskis’ unseemly eagerness to whore out their best characters in terrible, clueless commercials has alienated me from wanting to support their current projects. So I’m not dying to see Hugo work with them again, unless they give him something other than a stock villain to play.
Just my two cents. anyhow, the second interview focuses exclusively on Healing:
Healing (M). Director: Craig Monahan. Starring: Don Hany, Hugo Weaving. 119 minutes
As its title suggests, Healing probes the process of dealing with loss, coping with regret, and moving on to a more positive future. Director Craig Monahan has said that making the film was part of his own healing process, following the death of both of his parents during the years that the film was in development. Hugo Weaving’s character in the film is inspired by a real-life minimum-security prison officer whose daughter had died.
This man helped initiate a partnership between the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary and Prisons Victoria, to develop a program for rehabilitating injured raptors, that would be overseen by prisoners as part of their own rehabilitation. ‘The program encapsulated the positive side,’ says Weaving, ‘of someone trying to deal with their own grief, and healing himself by setting up a kind of living memorial to his daughter.’
Such a program and process lies at the heart of Healing. ‘I’d read a number of drafts,’ says Weaving, who has shared a working relationship with Monahan ever since he starred in the director’s feature debut, the menacing police drama The Interview, back in 1998. His character Matt, like his real-life counterpart, is a bereaved father, and his all-but silent grief lends considerable weight to Weaving’s gruff portrayal. ‘It is not demonstrated in any great depth, but you understand the magnitude of his grief and what he’s trying to deal with,’ says Weaving.
Matt is inspired to initiate the program not just by his own grief, but also by his observation of the film’s hero, Viktor (Hany), an Iranian expat and inmate who bears his own deep emotional scars. Viktor is at the tail end of a prison sentence for murdering a friend. During the course of the film he must confront not only his sense of guilt over that deed, but also try to heal the family relationships that have been damaged by his errant ways. His care for the raptors mirrors and enhances this process of self-healing.
As part of his research, Weaving spent time at some of Victoria’s minimum-security prison farms, and hopes that the insights gleaned from these experiences will illuminate for audiences this often-unseen aspect of the justice system. ‘It’s a prison film and yet you’re in a facility that not many people know about,’ he says. ‘At these facilities there’s a great deal of trust and quite strong relationships between prison officers and inmates.
‘It’s a pre-release facility, a very different atmosphere to a maximum-security prison. There were no exterior walls or fences — the inmates could run away if they wanted to, though obviously that’s not in their interests. It’s the borderline between being incarcerated and being set free. Therefore there needs to be a certain amount of trust and responsibility given to inmates because they need to be rehabilitated back into the community.’
Healing’s strongest attribute is its cinematography. Its images of birds in flight or repose stand as poignant metaphors for the ebb and flow of human dignity, the fragility and resilience of the human spirit, and the burgeoning self-respect. If the story is a bit thin at times, and the dialogue stilted, this is balanced by the gravity of the theme and by the performances of Hany and Weaving, as their characters push back with increasing resolve against the weight of grief and regret. In this regard it, like its characters, achieves transcendence.
Don Hany, meanwhile, spoke to The Daily Telegraph/News.com.au . In addition to promoting Healing, he mentioned his past Australian series and possible jump to American TV (tentatively reinforcing what I said earlier, though the pilot’s chances and quality may vary widely based which network commissioned it. As far as US television stealth-casting so many Australians goes, the reason is simple: they are often better than American actors. ) He also had very kind things to say about working with Hugo Weaving: “He introduced me to a philosophy about working that has changed what I will take to every job from now on… He’s such a fan of Australian cinema and a believer in making something that resonates. You couldn’t help but be energised by that.” And he mentions a close call with one of his feathered costars, “copping a talon” to the face when one of the eagles was accidentally startled.
Hany told XPressMag “It was very important for Craig (Monahan, director) that Viktor be older and less intimidating, because of that and at moments reveal that he had the potential to kill people. But my prep for that was to start eating rubbish, refrain from physical exercise and take up smoking. So it means I was half dead for most of the shoot…
He is such a generous guy and a real asset to the industry. He formed a culture on set that trickled down to everyone. Respect everyone’s process and where they come to the story at. It changed my work ethic and I’m sure it changes everyone that he works with. His magnanimity becomes quiet infectious. That’s the way it should be but rarely is. ”
Craig Monahan spoke to The Australian about the challenges of marketing the film: for the record, I disagree with the article’s contention that the marketing misrepresents or sentimentalizes the film. And an article in Star Community notes the Healesville Sanctuary’s role in the film.
Pinnacle Films continues to share brief but tantalizing excerpts from the film; the latest is a “bird complle” featuring beauty shots of the film’s real scene-stealers: its wedge-tailed eagles and owls:
I’d venture that your interest in seeing Healing will echo your response to this clip: if you’re bored by it, you probably won’t get into the film itself. But if you could watch this all day, like I could… maybe you’ll be moved. 😉
New Healing Reviews:
The reviews continue to be largely positive, with critics insisting the film never gets too sentimental for its own good outnumbering those who found aspects “corny” or wanted more of a grim storyline. Excerpts below, with links back to full reviews.
Jake Wilson, The Sydney Morning Herald: “It’s corny, certainly, but not entirely commonplace. Slowly but surely, the extremely gentle pace induces a sense of intimacy with the people and the setting, while leaving room for touches of dry Aussie humour. If Hany is a bit too charming to be a plausible hard case, Weaving gives one of his best performances, restraining his fidgety tendencies while maintaining a gruff, awkward manner that helps keep the sentiment palatable…
A gifted visual storyteller, Monahan makes ingenious use of the open-plan location to show how the characters relate to each other at a distance, the birds included. When Viktor temporarily parts ways with his beloved wedge-tail eagle Yasmine, she refuses to accept a substitute handler – gazing obsessively through the mesh of her enclosure to his distant figure on the horizon.”
Out In Perth: “There are obvious parallels between the men who have given up hope and the injured birds of prey, and with Academy Award winning cinematographer Andrew Lesnie behind the camera, this story of redemption hits an emotional soft spot. This powerful film was inspired by the remarkable Raptor Rehabilitation Program that exists between Healesville Sanctuary and Prisons Victoria.”
Megan Lehmann, The Hollywood Reporter: “Australian director Craig Monahan’s Healing may be the gentlest prison drama ever made. That’s not to say it lacks power; rather, the narrative unfurls as organically and precisely as the wings of the majestic but damaged birds that the film’s minimum-security inmates are charged with caring for…Weaving is terrific as Matt Perry, a senior case worker at a pre-release prison farm in rural Victoria where he heads up a rehabilitation program involving the care of injured eagles, falcons and other raptors. But the film belongs to Don Hany, a veteran of Australian television starring in his first major feature film role…A simmering menace permeates the script but the threatened violence never eventuates. Instead the focus is on uplift, with David Hirschfelder (Australia) providing a spirited symphonic score and Oscar-winning Australian cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) beautifully tracking the flight paths of the magnificent birds of prey.”
David O’Connell, XPressMag: “Perhaps director Craig Monahan (The Interview) has packed too much into this film that makes it seem like a clichéd prison yard story. To be fair, these are such commonplace tropes that the audience may well have missed them in their absence. However, it is the presentation that makes all the difference. Instead of being predictable and mawkish, Healing comes across as solid Australian drama, mostly due to the laconic performances of its actors…
Don Hany (Serangoon Road) as Viktor Khadem is definitely the highlight here. Hany underplays the role of a man that has been imprisoned for 18 years in a marvellously convincing way… Hugo Weaving as Matt Perry acts as a the perfect foil for Han, and their interaction really buoys the rest of the movie onward. Once again Weaving presents a man of few words, although one of obvious deep thought and positively verbose in comparison to Hany. As Healing progresses they grow a grudging respect for each other that appears to genuinely come from the actors…
Saved from schmaltz by strong acting, deliberate pacing, and some excellent cinematography (thanks to LOTR Oscar winner Andrew Lesnie) Healing gives us some solid drama. It may be full of overworked themes of redemption, but the result is a genuinely uplifting movie.”
“Matt allocates some unconventional inmate chores,
In this low-sec prison where Warren heads turf wars.
There are personal demons to face,
And with quiet dignity and grace:
Like Viktor’s feathered charges, Hany soars.”
Archibald Exhibit/Del Kathryn Barton’s ‘hugo’
The 2013 Archibald Prizes exhibit, highlighted by Del Kathryn Barton’s Hugo Weaving portrait, will be shown in Nowra, NSW May 13-June 28 at the Shoalhaven City Arts Centre. more details available at ArtsRush and South Coast Register.
Pinnacle Films has generously shared a two-minute clip from Healing which features Hugo Weaving’s character Matt Perry. Spoiler-phobes should be aware that it must come from near the beginning of the film, as it addresses the creation of the prison raptor aviary which is the focus of the entire plot:
Composer David Hirschfelder spoke to The Sydney Morning Herald about his scoring of the film. Don Hany contnues to appear at preview screenings and Q&As (sometimes with director Craig Monahan. He was interviewed on Network Ten’s The Project… but, alas, that clip, like most Network Ten content these days, seems to be blocked from international viewers.
Reviews for the film continue to be largely positive, though a few cynics have chimed in with complaints about the film’s quiet, contemplative pacing and lack of shocking twists. While I’ve made criticisms like this about more than a few pretentious arthouse films (the oeuvre of Terrence Malick springs to mind), I get the sense that most of the complaints in this case derive from the film not being the sort of “prison film” they expected, or from critics who simply don’t find the subject matter interesting to begin with. (Me, I could watch birds of prey in my yard for hours…) Some also don’t find the redemption angle of the story credible, though Healing is loosely based on a true story and is set at a low-security facility for prisoners who are largely rehabilitated rather than among highly violent offenders. Still, I do want to share a cross-section of thoughtfully-written reviews whether I believe my response to the film will be similar or not. A lot of people I respect didn’t “get” Mystery Road or thought it was too slow. I find such opinions a bit daft, but would also find a 100% critical consensus on ANY film suspicious. No film is made for every audience.
Louise Keller, Urban Cinefile: “While the ideas resonate emotionally, propelled by strong performances, the film drags in parts with the construct apparent. However there are many good things, including a fine score by David Hirschfelder and stunning cinematography by Andrew Lesnie in which falcons and eagles are shown in flight, their glorious wingspans in full display above the lazy rural Victorian setting…
Weaving is as good as ever – the fact that his Senior Officer Matt Perry has his own personal issues, brings pathos to the role, even though the premise seems somewhat contrived. The scene in which Paul is forced to release the owl with the extraordinary markings and saucer eyes into the wild has great poignancy as do the scenes between Viktor and Yasmine. Most successful is the bitter sweetness that Monahan achieves in depicting the emotional journey of the men who have become attached to the birds and must set them free. It is a pity the film does not soar as freely.”
Andrew L Urban, Urban Cinefile: “The symbolic metaphor of birds (freedom) and prisoners (no freedom) provides the inner tension in Healing, the simple but descriptively titled new film from Craig Monahan, who made one of my favourite Aussie dramas, The Interview (1998), starring Hugo Weaving and Tony Martin. They must have got on well because they’re together again in Healing…The two veteran actors are joined by a varied and wonderful cast…
Supple, meandering and sometimes besotted with the beauty of its own creations, the screenplay tries to embrace several inter-related themes, but fumbles the process. The obligatory prison rivalries, while no doubt essential for contextual veracity, distract from the narrative drive, diluting the power of the central story…
Andrew Lesnie’s photography is a standout, and David Hirschfelder’s score is like a power booster, sometimes reminiscent of his sweeping score for The Owls of Ga’hoole … with the owls in Healing adding the visual recall… A great deal of effort has gone into capturing the birds on screen – without capturing them from their freedom – and the close ups as well as the flying are special treats.”
Richard Cotter, Sydney Arts Guide: “Andrew Lesnie’s lensing of these magnificent birds in flight is exhilarating, leaving the audiences rapt in the rapture of these raptors – wide of wing, sharp of eye and talon, unfettered freedom in motion…
Director Craig Monahan continues his collaboration with Hugo Weaving, casting him as Matt Perry, the catalyst between prisoner and bird of prey… Weaving is reunited with Tony Martin his co star from Monahan’s feature debut, The Interview. Here he plays a fellow prison officer, cynical and pessimistic about the power of the programme. Monahan has assembled a strong ensemble supporting cast to play the archetypal prison inmates….
The real stars, of course, are the magnificent birds – majestic, noble, exquisite. Either perched or in full flight, they are eminently watchable… HEALING is a packed to the raptors entertainment with enormous heart.”
Lyndsay Kenwright, altmedia.net.au: “Despite the obvious title, Healing is an Australian film that is worth watching – beautiful cinematography and an evocative story with great characters… Sarah Greer, Lawyers weeklyThe mise-en-scène and the elegant movements offer thoughtful symbolism.”
Sarah Greer, Lawyers Weekly: “[A] prison story neither depressing nor didactic but thought provoking and quintessentially Australian…
Healing is a film of uncommon beauty and intelligence which explores crime and punishment, family relationships, racism, religion, recidivism, grief, love and hope…
Senior Officer Matt Perry [is] played perfectly understatedly by Hugo Weaving…
Even before the film’s completion, Monahan and Nisselle’s screenplay won the Gadens Queensland Literary Award for Feature Film Script. In different creative hands, Healing could have been a gruelling morality tale. Told as it is, the story’s power lies in its light touch and restraint. The many parallels between man and bird need no exposition…
While dealing with important ideas about right and wrong, Healing’s conscious refusal to preach, underestimate its audience’s intelligence or answer its own questions is maintained to the end. Without disclosing the film’s conclusion, it restores our faith in humanity and, momentarily, our justice system.”
Michael Perrot, The Movie Hound/couch.com.au: “While Healing drags and gets a bit over sentimental at times, there’s a lot to like in this movie. What with its fine Australian cast, a lot of characters who are in competition with each other, and all nursing secret and hidden problems…
Criag Monahan and his feature debut co-writer Alison Nisselle, have created a beautiful film about people and birds working together, all confined in a prison farm set in a peaceful rural setting. Their highlighting the competitive nature of the prison environment ensures an interest in all the characters, the prisoners, their guards and those outside the prison environment. But it also creates too many subplots which tend to detract from the heart of the story. Andrew Lesnie’s cinematography is brilliant, especially his bird photography, and David Hirschfelder’s musical score which adds majesty to Lesnie’s bird photography.” *
A new report from Screen Daily confirms what earlier news reports from the film’s Broken Hill set (and some cast members’ sudden disappearance from Australia) suggested: that Strangerland has indeed wrapped production. The article shares the first official still from the film (below) featuring Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes in the aftermath of the dust storm which got so much press attention during the shoot. Screen Daily also notes that Strangerland will launch its international sales campaign at the Cannes Film Festival, which begins later this month. Since Strangerland can’t possibly be completed, it’s probable that the distributor (Wild Bunch) is trying to sell the film to international markets based on the cast’s reputation, and possibly some raw footage, stills or the script. But it’s good to hear it’s already being marketed. Tim Winton’s The Turning STILL doesn’t have North American distribution, and has only screened at a few festivals outside Australia.
The Film Stage features the same report, plus this new synopsis: “Catherine (Nicole Kidman) and Matt Parker are trying to adjust to their new life in the remote Australian desert town of Nathgari. They are pleasant but keep to themselves, unwilling to get close to anyone. On the eve of a massive dust storm, their lives are rocked when their two teenage children, Lily and Tom disappear into the desert. With Nathgari now eerily smothered in red dust and darkness, the locals join the search lead by local cop, David Rae (Hugo Weaving). It soon becomes apparent that something terrible may have happened to them. Suspicion is cast, rumors spread and ancient Aboriginal stories are told in whispers as the locals begin to turn against the couple. With temperatures rising and the chances of survival plummeting with each passing day, Catherine and Matthew find themselves pushed to the brink, as they struggle to survive the uncertainty of their children’s fate.”
This indicates that the dust storm happens near the beginning of the film, and thus is not a major plot spoiler.
Mystery Road Festival Screening
Finally, Chicago residents will have an opportunity to see Mystery Road on May 14 when it screens as part of the Chicago Critics Film Festival. Ain’t It Cool News provided more details and a nice plug for the event. Music Box Theater is the venue. US Hugo fans may remember that The Music Box Theater was one of the few cinemas to screen Last Ride during its brief 2012 theatrical run, and that the associated Music Box Films distributed it here.