I just watched the Australian movie, Noise, directed by Matthew Saville, his first full-length feature, and I really, really liked it! Saville plays with elements of the thriller, but what emerges is
a quiet character study, a portrait of a specific place and time, an allegorical meditation on decency and conscience, and a harrowing police procedural. The film never treats the audience as an idiot, constantly challenging it with fresh perspectives and engaging the gray areas of the plot rather than following a conventional arc. It's among the most cinematic and authentic films I've seen in years.
Police Constable Graham McGahan (Brendan Cowell) is afflicted with tinnitus, a disease of the inner ear that causes constant ringing and the news may be darker than that--he's waiting for tests to come back that may tell him he has a tumor. He attempts to get some time off work, but instead is given light duty, assigned to sit each night in a caravan (a trailer) parked in a rundown suburb of Melbourne where a series of murders has recently occured, his job being to listen to the members of the public who drop into the caravan, trying to pick up whatever information he can. At first he goes about this job diffidently, sardonically. Graham doesn't much like being a policeman. The only reason he became one is, as he says, because he didn't have the grades to do anything else. There's not much he does like about his life. Even his relationship with his girlfriend seems flat and joyless. And his tinnitus is growing worse. At one point he turns on every appliance in his house, hoping to drown out the ringing. A gunshot sounds to him like a bomb going off in his head.
Saville, sound designer Emma Bortignon, and composer Briony Marks have created a brooding score that dances and fades behind aural signatures, yielding a sinister, unsettling sense like the onset of a psychedlic drug. All the prosaic sounds of the day--telephones ringing, muffled dialogue, liquids being slurped--are instruments in a disorienting symphony that flows between atmospherics and more spectacular moments. It's absolutely brilliant, the way Saville uses sound to build realism. What the audience hears becomes central to the film and its premise.
We begin with a terrible mass murder on a commuter train that leaves a single survivor, an aboriginal girl, Lavinia (Maia Thomas), and a doer for whom the cops have turned out every resource to find. Parked in his caravan over the Christmas holidays, McGahan engages a number of neighborhood folk who are grappling with the tragedy each in their own way, exposing their kindness and angst and malevolence, and gradually his character changes. Lucky Phil (Simon Laherty), an impaired teenager who likes to take pictures of his dog wearing eccentric outfits, exemplifies how the movie refuses to lapse into stereotype, but all the roles are wonderfully written and acted. I think Maia Thomas, in particular, is going to be a star. And, of course, there's Cowell as McGahan, who pulls off an amazing, many-layered performance. The cinematography, by Lazlo Baranyai, is impeccable, using off color mixes to generate a pulsing energy in context with the sound design.
This is a film I'm going to watch a lot, both for pleasure and to figure out it's secrets. I highly recomend you try it. At present it's only available from Austrailia for 23 bucks. I suggest Ezy Dvd at http://www.ezydvd.com.au/
Warning. If you like movies in which all mysteries and all plot lines are resolved, you won't be happy with this. The usual resolutions are not what Saville is after.