Black And White


Reviewed by: The Dude

Black And White
"The film's driving force is not, as one would expect, the performances, but the story, and it is this more than anything that holds your interest."

Unfortunately, the story is a stereotypical one: ignorant white cops frame a coloured man for a murder he did not commit, a justice system that gives the defendant no chance and a society that would rather imprison the wrong man than the right one. The difference is, this really happened - in Australia, in the Fifties.

Robert Carlyle plays David O'Sullivan, a lawyer with an attraction towards the underdog, struggling within a bureaucratic public service that pays nothing for defence attorneys. When he is assigned to the case of Max Stuart (David Ngoombjarra), an illiterate Aborigine accused of the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl, it quickly becomes clear that not only did the police frame the wrong man, but that they got the wrong man to defend him. As well as a pathologically negative partner, Helen Devaney (Kerry Fox), O'Sullivan is forced to grapple with lying officials, invisible alibis and an inherently racist legal system, epitomised by the Crown's prosecutor, Roderic Chamberlain (Charles Dance).

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Despite being blocked by systematic bigotry at every turn, with the support of young newspaper entrepreneur Rupert Murdoch (Ben Mendelsohn), O'Sullivan and Devaney are able to take their client's case all the way to the Queen's Privy Council and help change the face of Australian justice forever.

The film's driving force is not, as one would expect, the performances, but the story, and it is this more than anything that holds your interest. The lack of background leaves you wondering why these people are so involved in the case. An insight into their personal lives would have made them more multi-dimensional and created an interest into their motivations.

Compared to some of his other performances, Carlyle comes across as a bit flat. Fox is convincing, although her character doesn't require that much energy until the end. She spends most of the time not supporting her colleague and apparently getting drunk - not even ONE embarrassing episode! Also, I found myself checking my watch on more than one occasion during the conversational exchanges between the two of them.

Dance's performance is truly inspired and passionate. He REALLY makes you hate him, which is what any good villain is supposed to do. Ngoombjarra is also impressive. As much as you want to believe he is the innocent victim, his conveyance of Stuart's faults contributes nicely to the realism of the character's development.

In addition to accomplished acting, there are lovely snatches of landscape, excellent cinematography, good use of lighting and creative editing that never becomes obtrusively modern.

Although the film drags in parts, this is a great story, definitely worth a watch.

Reviewed on: 23 Jul 2004
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Reconstruction of famous aboriginal murder trial in South Australia in 1959.
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Read more Black And White reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray ***
Jennie Kermode ***

Director: Craig Lahiff

Writer: Louis Nowra

Starring: Robert Carlyle, Charles Dance, Kerry Fox, David Ngoombujarra, Colin Friels, Ben Mendelsohn, Roy Billing, Bille Brown, Heather Mitchell

Year: 2002

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Australia/UK


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