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):
Meanwhile Don Hany spoke to Cinemazzi in this video, which, like Hugo’s, features film footage:
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.”
Craig Monahan at Luna Palace Cinemas Q&A 8 May Photo: Luna Palace Instagram
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.