Justin Kurzel’s recounting of the events leading up to the 1996 Port Arthur massacre is a brilliant study of a damaged psyche.
Nitram is the nickname given to the otherwise unnamed central character of this story. He is a thirtysomething man who lives at home with his parents in a sleepy town in Tasmania. Less an outsider than an outcast, he finds everyday social situations problematic. Then he meets Helen, a wealthy spinster who forms an emotional connection with him. But events soon spiral out of control, leading to the fateful shootings.
Kurzel’s film shares a low-key approach that made his feature debut Snowtown so riveting. But whereas that film detailed the murders of John Bunting, here Kurzel’s film builds up to the massacre but never shows it. Instead, it imagines what pushed his subject to that point. Key to the film’s success are the four leads. Caleb Landry Jones excels as Nitram, giving depth to the character beyond his ‘misfit’ exterior. Judy Davis and Anthony LaPaglia are superb as his parents, while the ever-dependable Essie Davis plays Helen. All four actors won in their respective categories at the Australian film awards, the AACTAs, while Landry Jones also won the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival, where the film premiered.