John (Travis McMahon) kidnaps a young man one night in Sydney and bundles him into his car for a long drive into the outback. The prisoner, Eli (David Lyons), is frightened but confused why he is being kidnapped - and by whom. The long drive pits the men against each other, but it also forces them into an uneasy bond as John reluctantly reveals his compelling motivation for taking on this job. A single unintended event leads to the unraveling of John's delivery plan and thrusts the two men into a vortex of tragic consequences.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Beginning with a no-nonsense sequence that sidesteps pleasantries, preliminaries or establishing scenes, Jasmine Yuen Carrucan's debut feature thrusts us into a dramatic scenario in which the language of cinema does all the talking. Dialogue is sparse, but communication is endless. It's an impressive debut with a robust backbone; it's a holistic, single minded screenplay with a well defined trajectory and something to say about humanity - and it's a positive, in a perverted kind of way.
The film is flawed in parts, sagging about the hour mark and with minor mistakes and some lack of experience, but they are not flaws that bite into the film's overall success - even though the screenplay doesn't stack up to probing logical analysis. It has great 'feel'. Travis McMahon makes a good fist of the determined kidnapper, whose single minded objective is to earn the money for reasons best left for you to discover in the way the filmmakers intended. David Lyons, in a physically demanding role as the victim, makes a great impression as an actor capable of complexity and sudden shifts in mood.
Excellent cameos from Bryan Brown as the country cop who plays a crucial role in the plot, despite miniscule screen time, and Shane Jacobson as a truckie with an equally small but important role. Both characters are ripped out of Aussie outback imagery in every sense, and add layers to the economical yet powerful drama Carrucan has fashioned out of a simple idea.
Nerida Tyson-Chew again delivers a terrific score, one that sidles up beautifully to the film's tone and emotional landscape, always inventive without being obtrusive. Speaking of music, the film makes good use of Cindy Walker's philosophical oldie, Don't Catch Your Chickens Before They Hatch, not to mention the wicked use of The Wiggles' Hot Potato, played very loud as a form of mild torture.
Oh, and if you're wondering about the title, cactus is the Australian slang for being up shit creek without a paddle.
Review by Louise Keller:
It's not just the landscape that's prickly in this intriguing film that's a mix of road movie, hostage drama and buddy movie of sorts. The characters are all outwardly hostile but like the succulent plant that occasionally produces an exotic bloom, show another side. Writer director Jasmine Yuen Carrucan's impressive debut film tackles issues of survival, morality and rules by which the different characters live. For the two central characters, convincingly played by Travis McMahon and David Lyons, it is a journey that negotiates geography, emotions and status. Deeper and more complex than it appears at first sight, Cactus is a terrific low-budget Australian film with tough, macho themes that are supported by even tougher female elements.
At the beginning of the film, an old scarlet Ford Fairmont makes its way along the city highways, through tunnels, curves and bends, through rural green-lands with its distinctive eucalypt trees until it reaches outback territory, where there is nothing but dry red dirt and clumps of hardy tufts for the sticky flies to buzz around. Travis McMahon's John is driving west when Bryan Brown's local cop Rosco tells him 'You mess up, you answer to me'. At first we have no idea what is happening, but we are given information a little bit at a time, including a few scenes in flashback when we see the circumstances in which John wraps silver masking tape around the mouth and hands of his captive Eli (David Lyons). The story hinges on the constantly changing relationship between John and Eli, which wavers precariously like a teetering see-saw. Both men have a tough exterior and an Achilles heel. I like Shane Jacobson (who could forget Kenny?) as the burly truckie Thommo whose dashboard sports a green skirted swaying hula doll, and Bryan Brown is a ripper as the tough cop who answers to no-one except his wife when it comes to giving up cigarettes.
The barren Australian landscape is striking through Florian Emmerich's lens, while Nerida Tyson-Chew's soundtrack cleverly moulds itself into the psyche of the film. One of the most memorable scenes is also the most incongruous, when Eli is locked in the red ford surrounded by desert, while the Wiggles' CD playing Hot Potato plays loudly again and again. There's even an ironic touch of comedy prompted by circumstances involving John, Eli, Thommo and a truck. The film's main thrust is deadly serious however, and like Eli, the gambler who believes in making his own luck, will no doubt leave an imprint.
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BRYAN BROWN & TRAVIS McMAHON INTERVIEWS
CAST: Travis McMahon, David Lyons, Bryan Brown, Shane Jacobson, Daniel Krige, Celia Ireland, Zoe Tuckwell-Smith, Elspeth Baird
PRODUCER: Paul Sullivan
DIRECTOR: Jasmine Yuen Carrucan
SCRIPT: Jasmine Yuen Carrucan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Florian Emmerich
EDITOR: Mark Perry
MUSIC: Nerida Tyson-Chew
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Aaron Crothers
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hoyts
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 1, 2008