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The Last Wave

By Sam Sutherland

Nominally a supernatural thriller, Peter Weir's third feature resonates with the director's underlying fascination with the collision between the modern, rational world and the primordial mysteries of older belief systems. In The Last Wave, the keys to an enigmatic murder, as well as baffling disturbances in the weather, are gradually revealed to an Australian lawyer (Richard Chamberlain) within the shadowy, nomadic culture of aborigines living in and around Sydney who until now were presumed to be assimilated into its modern--and white--social fabric. In the process, Weir brings us toward an apocalyptic climax that is foreshadowed with a haunting series of events that cohere around water imagery, from an improbable drowning on dry land to downpours from cloudless skies, sudden hailstorms on the sere Australian land, and ghostly invasions of frogs.

The film's power (as well as what skeptics might regard as its pretension) emanates from Weir's stately, deliberate pace. Violating most of the conventions of suspense, he unravels his mystery with an unsettling calm underscored by its sparse soundtrack, which replaces conventional orchestral cues with the low, brooding rattle and hum of the didgeridoo. Instead of sudden camera movements or quick cuts, Weir circles his subjects almost diffidently. The stillness of that approach only amplifies the mounting unease Chamberlain's character, David Burton, feels as he steps for the first time beyond the bland safety of his privileged life and into the mystical world of the native Australians. Taking on the defense of the aborigines suspected of murdering the drowned man through tribal magic, his own beliefs are tested by the suspects' evident, intuitive connections to nature.

Chamberlain's Anglicized performance seems fussy and epicene, which only heightens the quiet intensity and watchful grace conveyed by the two aborigines, Chris Lee (David Gulpilil) and the shaman, Charlie (Nandjiwarra Amagula), who give Burton his first glimpse of their culture's "dreamtime" and the potent symbolism it contains.

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FILM FACTS

Buy this VHS movie from Amazon.com! (Click here!)Buy this DVD from Amazon.com! (Click here!)Soundtrack unavailable at Amazon.com - try eBay (see links below)Rated PGNot on an American Film Institute 100 list

Director: Peter Weir

Stars: Richard Chamberlain, Olivia Hamnett

Released: December 21, 1977

Availability: DVD VHS


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