Crazy good – Mad Bastards review

Mad Bastards – Starring Dean Daley-Jones, Greg Tait and Lucas Yeeda. Directed by Brendan Fletcher. Rated MA. By Simon Miraudo.

Brendan Fletcher’s feature film debut Mad Bastards is a very human tale told with an electric vibrancy rarely found in dramas of this ilk. It lives and breathes and meanders freely, in the spirit of the Kimberley storytellers who inspired the film. The subject matter is dark and difficult, but Fletcher doesn’t wish to wallow. Instead, he celebrates the Aboriginal culture whilst also addressing the inherent issues that pervade their local communities. The scope of the film is not limited to Australia’s indigenous peoples, or even Australia. It’s about crushing boredom, misplaced anger, and the fear of responsibility that leads people to find solace in various vices. It’s about family and history and guilt and redemption. It’s about a man who has made a lifetime of mistakes, and is finally ready to meet his son. And then, when he fails to redeem himself, we discover it’s really about the son learning he is the one who has to be a better man, lest he follow in his father’s footsteps.

Mad Bastards opens with 14-year-old Bullet (Lucas Yeeda) setting fire to a house. Just because. Teenage frustration rarely needs explanation. His drunken mother (Ngaire Pigram) can’t be relied on to provide him with guidance, and his long-estranged father TJ (Dean Daley-Jones) is busy getting into random dustups. Local sheriff and Bullet’s granddad Texas (Greg Tait) is tired of seeing the men of his town reduced to violent alcoholism, like a stoic, less articulate Allen Ginsberg (“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…”). He ships Bullet off to an outback retreat where he can reconnect with his heritage, and intercepts TJ, who has returned to town to prove he can be a proper man. Even Texas, who has established a men’s group for any locals looking for some support, finds it difficult to forgive TJ for his sins, and risk exposing Bullet to his volatile father.

The film is brief, and moves briskly to the beat of the Pigram Brothers’ upbeat (yet surprisingly affecting) soundtrack. Fletcher worked closely with the cast (each are wonderfully effortless performers) to develop the characters and screenplay over the course of a decade (a’la Mike Leigh) and the resulting product is a fluid, tightly contained little story. I would say that TJ spends a little too much time travelling to meet his son; it feels like his decision to make amends is followed by a long trip across the Kimberley region. I would have rather watched the push-and-pull relationship between TJ, Bullet and Texas for longer. Then again, that long stretch of emptiness helps convey the familial separation, and provides us with plenty of gorgeous shots of the outback, so the extended sequence is not unwelcome.

I hate (hate) when films based on real people conclude with footage of the actual subjects (127 Hours is the worst recent offender). All it seems to do is take us out of the film, and acknowledge, “Oh, yeah, so-and-so really does look like the real person”. Mad Bastards finishes with a couple of interviews with the main actors, as themselves, relating their own similar tales as featured in the flick. It works. Such is the nature of the film; it feels like an extension of the story, and also hints that as media evolves, those seemingly living on the fringes of society need not fear extinction. Mad Bastards is an involving tribute to – and exciting evolution of – Australian storytelling.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Mad Bastards arrives in Australian cinemas May 5, 2011.

4 Responses to “Crazy good – Mad Bastards review”

  1. interesting comment re: the real people in end credits etc. personally i have always found this to be welcomed. I feel it adds a taste of authenticity to the story, and i cant say i have ever been so caught up in any movie as to lost touch with reality so the physical similarities of lack thereof does not affect my appraisal

  2. I totally agree Martin re: the REALITY. This would have to be the most realistic film I’ve ever seen. None of the ‘Hollywood Hype’ type of B/S. In this film, when someone gets hit they actually bleed. Regarding T.J’s long journey to his destination, do you know how far the Kimberley’s are from Perth? A long way when you’re hitch-hiking. Again… REALITY. I recommend this film to ANY man who has inner demons and is looking for hope.


  1. Reviews Wrap | AFI blog - June 2, 2011

    […] final climactic scene, “the privileging of tableau over dialogue feels just right.” Quickflix critic Simon Miraudo gives Mad Bastards four out of five stars, and despite admitting to hating […]

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