This is the latest film from Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel who directed the likes of Macbeth with Michael Fassbender, The True History of The Kelly Gang with George Mackay. This once again sees the filmmaker head back to the dark side of Australian history and what is considered the worst gun atrocity in the country, The Port Arthur Massacre , Tasmania Island in 1996.
Martin (Caleb Landry Jones) who has a nickname he got from school Nitram (martin backwards) is a troubled young man, suffering from aggressive streaks, anxiety, depression, impulsion. His neighbours do not like him, his parents (Judy Davis and Anthony La Plagia) are tired, end of their tether on the brink of giving up on their son. Martin is awkward, frustrated, lonely and doesn’t help much that he lives on an island, so isolation not helping matters either.
The film actually opens up with an archive footage of the real Mart Bryant as a 10 year old in 1979 getting interviewed by local TV news in Hospital. He was playing with fireworks and firecrackers especially that find him burned and was asked would he do it again? He says yes. Fast forward to 1996 he’s now giving the local school kids crackers that finds him in a confrontation with the teacher only to be saved by his father.
Martin unexpectedly finds a close friend in a reclusive heiress, Helen (Essie Davis). However when that friendship meets its tragic end, and Nitram’s loneliness and anger grow, he begins a slow descent that leads to disaster.
This was a controversial film in Australia. As you could say Nitram is more a character study that’s more interested in Martin’s mindset, what made him kill rather than respect for the victims in which 35 people where killed , 23 wounded. The film doesn’t actually show Martin killing any one, and actually massacre itself you see him go to the venue buy something then stand up and fire the gun.
Many question why did Helen bond so quickly with Martin who couldn’t mow her lawn but ended up taking he dog walked, but she gave him gifts of a car, took him on holiday, even let her stay at her home. Martin’s mum questioned her, is she looking for a husband or simply just company? If anything it’s the latter.
This is not an easy watch, nor is it a film with scares. If anything the most terrifying part of Nitram is a scene Martin with a bag of Money goes into a Gun shop and buys an arsenal of weapons, he’s asked do you have a license he says NO, the owners don’t budge an eyelid and sell the weapons.
Just before the fateful day Martin has that arsenal laid out on a table and in the background the TV news reports the massacre of Dublane from 1996. The reporter profiling the killer which Martin himself fell under. Gun Ownership in Australia I believe is even more than U.S, the massacre saw the government bring in ownership laws that sadly many still don’t adhere to today.
Davis and LaPaglia do give a fantastic emotional performance, Nitram itself premiered at 2021 Cannes Film festival leaving with critical appraise, a long standing ovation and Caleb Landry Jones winning best actor award.
Nitram is a film is a highlight of the Failure of mental health, someone who clearly was in need of dire help. Sadly mental health issues in the previous decades was very taboo, or even wasn’t fully understood as it is now.
Not an easy watch, disturbing, engrossing, compelling film.
Drama | Australia, 2021 |15| Blu-ray, DVD | 19th September 2022 (UK) | Picturehouse Entertainment | Dir. Justin Kurzel | Caleb Landry Jones, Judy Davis, Anthony LaPaglia