Movie Review: Tim Winton’s The Turning

Colin Delaney reviews The Turning, and discovers a bold cinematic experience that meditates on the minutiae of the human condition:

Before delving into new Australian film project The Turning, memorise these character names: Vic Lang; his wife Gail; father Bob; and mother Carol. If you’re better with faces (like me) than names, really focus. Remember also the names Max and younger brother Frank, but most of all remember Vic.

He appears in eight of the 18 short films that make up The Turning, adapted from the book of the same name by author Tim Winton about those ‘turning’ moments in life which spark repercussions and may or may not change one’s fate. For Vic, it’s numerous turns, not just one sliding door, which influence and inform the ephemeral and changing nature of his memories and viewpoints. Perhaps that’s why Vic takes different forms.

In Abbreviation he inhabits Indigenous teen actor Joseph Pedley (Satellite Boy) getting his first kiss. He’s in Richard Roxburgh (Rake) as a ‘put together’ husband married to Gail, played by Cate Blanchett (we’re not jogging your memory on this one) in Reunion. And in Defender he’s a man literally falling apart, played by Dan Wylie (Puberty Blues).

The-Turning-3Don’t rely on eras or locations to cement you in the timeline either. They all remain pretty yet vague. Just rely on the names. Vic, Gail, Bob and Carol, Max and Frank. This will ready you to make sense of The Turning’s ambitious, non-linear lay-out.

Robert Connolly (producer of The Boys; writer-director of Three Dollars, Balibo and Network Ten’s tele-movie Underground: The Julian Assange Story) produced the film. Connolly invited 18 filmmaker teams to take part, some with a feature credit already under their belts, others making their directing debut.

Snowtown’s Justin Kurzel and Samson & Delilah’s Warwick Thornton directed Boner McPharlin’s Moll and Big World respectively. Both beautifully shot stories existing outside the worlds of the Lang Family or Max and Frank. Similarly, Tony Ayres’ Cockleshell is a lovely standalone piece.

Meanwhile actors David Wenham and Mia Wasikowska turn in standout directorial debuts – while remaining off screen – with films Commission and Long Clear View.

Commission sees Hugo Weaving as Bob Lang, an ex-cop with a stoic exterior suffering demons that resurface when Vic tracks him down in an outback shack. Wenham uses a light touch and lets Weaving reveal through bare character subtleties. It’s an attribute in line with the director’s view of Winton’s text: ‘[He] has the ability to strip anything extraneous from his characters and stories. His unique skill allows him in each instance to simply and directly locate the kernel of truth.’

On the other hand, Wasikowska’s debut, as prefaced in the film’s accompanying 40-page booklet, is ‘A portrait of Vic Lang’s younger-years. His peculiar habits, social anxieties and fixation on his father’s rifle.’

Wasikowska says; ‘I was interested in the perspective of a young person and the way their imagination can heighten things and change reality of instances in our lives.’

As a result, it’s kinda fun, kinda creepy, and with its manicured attention to vintage set and framing, has a hint of Wes Anderson to it.

In the uneasy viewing of eponymous short The Turning, Rose Byrne goes full bogan as Rae, beaten up wife to a downward spiralled Max, played by Matt Nable.

Much like Winton’s Western Australian coastline backdrop, some characters are vulnerable and delicate while others rough and isolated. The standout list of actors is long and varied with some faces instantly recognisable and others, not so, but continually pop up like a treat on an Easter egg hunt for fans of the Australian screen.

As unique as its format is the film’s distribution model, through Madman and Connolly’s own arm, cinemaplus. As the cinema mega-plex, like the intergalactic monsters within it, swallow up independent and arthouse cinema, this film aims to take a bite back, offering more than passive viewing.

Billed as an event screening, you’ll receive the aforementioned glossy booklet with the films’ synopses, key cast and crew and forewords by Connolly and Winton. A limited season of screenings will feature Q&A sessions with the various filmmakers, and at three hours long, will come with an ‘olde tyme’ intermission so you can discuss and dissect at the urinal or candy bar before re-entering for the second half.

Due to its niche market distribution model, it won’t capture the word-of-mouth growth that Red Dog and The Sapphires enjoyed the last two years. Similarly it doesn’t have those films’ escapism so it’ll be another local offering passing the masses because its bogged down by ‘depressing’ social-realism.

However, if you’re one for bold, cinematic experiences that go beyond 3D and in-your-face explosions, to meditate on the minutiae of the human condition, The Turning is engaging viewing.

Similarly for film nerds, it’s interesting to see the many interpretations of reoccurring characters by the varying filmmakers and actors. Yet, despite the booklet, and ignoring all I’ve just written, watch the films without knowing who directed what, so’s to read them all on face value.

Just go in remembering Vic Lang; his wife Gail; father Bob; and mother Carol. Remember also the names Max and younger brother Frank, but most of all, remember Vic.



Review by Colin Delaney. The Turning is in cinemas from September 26.