Last Ride (2009)
written by: Mac Gudgeon (screenplay) and Denise Young (novel)
produced by: Antonia Barnard, Nicholas Cole and Nick Cole
directed by: Glendyn Ivin
rating: PG-13 (or thematic elements, some language, a fight and smoking)
runtime: 100 min.
U.S. release date: January 9, 2012 (Palm Springs International Film Festival) and June 29, 2012 (limited) – also available on iTunes, Amazon Instant, and ZUNE
While watching “Last Ride”, I was reminded of the last film I saw that focused on a father and son journey. It was Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio’s 2009 feature film debut, “Alamar”, an absorbing 73 minute tale which followed a young boy and his estranged father out on the Caribbean sea. That film had a decidedly documentary feel to it, whereas “Last Ride”, the directorial debut of Aussie Glendyn Ivin released the same year in Australia, has a more deliberate narrative. It’s a tender and terrifying look at a similar broken family dynamic, impressively played by Hugo Weaving and Tom Russell, as the two drive into the Australian bush, escaping a harrowing event that effectively unravels as the central mystery of their tenuous road trip progresses. Both films rely on minimal dialogue and their stunning vast surroundings to convey a geographic and emotional distance that is as absorbing as it is compelling.
“Last Ride” is a dark ride that follows the erratic hot-tempered Kev (Hugo Weaving) and his young son Chook (Tom Russell, “The Tree”) deep into the southern Australian countryside, by foot or stolen vehicle. This isn’t just paternal bonding here though. We slowly learn that Kev has recently committed a violent act that has him and his confused son on the run. Kev is armed with occasional charm that provides them with necessities like food and shelter, but his volatile nature always seems to leave an unfortunate trail. Both Chook and his father struggle internally, as they both try to figure out their place with each other. Through parental neglect and cruelty, be it deliberate or impulsive, Kev sets out to impart some harsh lessons in an environment as unforgiving as he is. With their future indefinitely living up to the film’s title, the two characters must face the inevitable truth about who and where they are.
Ivin is a filmmaker who trusts his audience, patiently unveiling the impetus for the duo’s travels and therefore allowing the viewer to come to an understanding of these characters at their own pace. It helps that in adapting the novel The Last Ride by Denise Young, screenwriter Mac Gudgeon, steers clear of needless exposition, offering a chance to simply observe and let us arrive at our own conclusions about Kev and Chook. For example, the pivotal violent act Kev commits, involving his friend Max (John Brumpton, “Red Hill”), isn’t necessarily one without reason but could have been due to a misunderstanding, blurred by his raging violence. We can see the perspectives that Kev and Chook have of this event, but it doesn’t make it any less unsettling.
That unsettling tone permeates throughout “Last Ride” as does an air of awkwardness and a palpable feeling of uneasiness as we see Kev interact with others. One of their first stops is to the home of Maryanne (Anita Hegh) an ex-girlfriend of Kev’s, who may have played the role of mother to Chook in the past (possibly his only experience of maternal care), to get some breakfast. We watch as Maryanne is intimidated by Kev, relenting to an afternoon delight forced upon her by a selfish abuser, hinting at what could have easily brought on their break up.
Does Kev truly love Chook? Does he have a plan or even the boy’s best interests in mind? Will Chook follow in his father’s footsteps and become an imposing powder keg?
These are natural questions that come to mind, especially in the scenes where the father and son are off on their own. In particular, a couple cruel scenes involving swimming – the first in which Kev tosses Chook, who doesn’t know how to swim, into a lake. Kev looks on in laughter as his boy flays in the water, desperately trying to stay afloat and make his way back to shore. The second time we see a more tender exchange in the water, where Kev patiently (perhaps out of guilt) teaches Chook to float on his back, in case he ever gets into a jam. Ironically, that is one lesson that sticks with Chook and comes in handy as the film closes.
Although there are troubling moments at just about every turn, the undeniable beauty of the Australian landscape provide a breathtaking albeit brief escape. The environment may have its own challenges, but Greg Fraser (“Snow White and the Huntsman” and “Let Me In”) provides gorgeous cinematography, specifically during a ride through immense salt flats. For the most part, the peaceful settings serves as a counterbalance to the unpredictable father and son relationship. Australian composer Paul Charlier gives the film a soundtrack with meandering guitars (think Daniel Lanois or Ry Cooder) that carefully accentuates the varying emotions of each scene.
“Last Ride” is one of those movies that is easy to recommend based on the performances and the captivating scenery alone. It’s not a pleasant story, but it breathes a raw believability thanks to its two lead actors. Weaving and Russell make a great antagonistic pair, expressing an assortment of naked emotions – from grief to guilt – that deftly conveys two unapologetic character studies. I’m uncertain why it took three years to get to the States, but I’m definitely glad it finally arrived.