The striking landscape of remote Australia frames the story of Chook, a ten-year-old boy curious to discover his identity, on the run with his father, in Glendyn Ivin’s Last Ride. Ivin and cinematographer Greig Fraser’s widescreen location photography is stunning, it would be difficult for the most imaginative set designer or CGI wizard in Hollywood to conjure this otherworldly scenery, yet the actors deliver nuanced performances, the intimacy of their emotional struggle never swallowed by the majesty of their surroundings. Fraser, who has since worked as director of photography on Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, and cinematographer on Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, also helped Ivin shoot his 2003 Palm d’Or winning short, Cracker Bag. Their collaboration on Last Ride, Ivin’s first feature, adapted from a novel by Denise Young, honors the legacy of the titans of the Australian New Wave, such as Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout.
The inexperience of first time actor Tom Russell, as Chook, is balanced by Hugo Weaving, as Kev, his sometimes violent, criminal father. Weaving, known in America for portraying a transsexual woman (Priscilla: Queen of the Desert), a mechanized secret agent (The Matrix Trilogy) and elf royalty (The Lord of the Rings), is subtle as a man who seems to want to love his child, despite his propensity for brutal behavior. A crime he has committed, and a crime that may or may not have been committed against his son, drive the two away from their home, into the wild desolation where they are both forced to confront who they are, and who they might become. “We’re Mongrels, us. We’re whatever we want to be,” Kev tells his son early in the film, when he inquires about what sort of “fellas” they are. The two actors create a realism in their dynamic, with minimal dialog, and Ivin and screenwriter Mac Gudgeon cultivate genuine mystery about the circumstances that precede their predicament, so that when they’re revealed in flashbacks, it’s a welcome break in the narrative.
Ivin’s background is as a graphic designer, then as director of commercials and music videos. He has developed as a cinematic storyteller, and particularly as a photographer. His photographic documentation of his various projects has been fascinatingly and extensively compiled on his blog, Hoaxville. In a January, 2015 interview with the Australian Director’s Guild’s Screen Director Magazine, Ivin recalled that while making Last Ride, “I generated gigabytes of photographs and some of them were really beautiful… They were just photos I took of locations and cast or images of what something was going to be visually…” He’s since published two books of his photography, and feels that “Great photography is all about reduction and finding one image that tells a story.” Last Ride is rich with these sort of potent images; much is conveyed without the actors uttering a word. Ivin compliments this visual universe with precise, detailed sound design and an evocative score by composer Paul Charlier.
Ultimately father and son decide the fate of their identities in very different ways. “We’re Butch and Sundance,” Kev declares to his son, clearly aware this reference will be lost on the boy, but revealing to himself, and the viewer, that he will embrace his role as an outlaw on the run. Chook is presented with a more expansive collection of possible futures, an open space as vast as the landscape his father has been dragging him across. Perhaps the decision he makes is inevitable, but there is remarkable drama in watching a ten-year-old boy wrestle with the difficulties of reaching it.