Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

"Hail essentially tells the story of going straight, and is filled with knowing details, acidic and authentic writing."

Hail is a movie drenched in very languid, human details. The day to day drudge of poverty - smoking when you're skint is hard work - collecting half-smoked butts to gather enough gruesome tobacco to roll into one complete cigarette. The film's excellent production design and marvellous photography reinforce this. It's almost completely handheld and shot in widescreen, photographed quickly and loosely.

Amiel Courtin-Wilson directed and wrote the screenplay. It is based on the life and art of Daniel P Jones, an Australian man who spent some time in prison; he portrays himself in a partial fiction of his life. He's a grizzled sadsack of a man, leering and dangerous yet powerfully sensitive, and his words grasp beyond his education. Once on release, he immediately goes to visit his wife (Jones' real-life wife Leanne Letch) without telling her of his release. "If I'd told you, it wouldn't be a surprise."

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Hail essentially tells the story of going straight, and is filled with knowing details, acidic and authentic writing. The assortment of non-professional actors adds to its richness and authenticity. Jones and Letch's post-prison sex feels utterly believable, so much hair, moaning and wrinkly flesh. It's not erotic but is tender, intimate and beautiful.

Going straight isn't easy - job interviews are skin-crawlingly difficult scenes, and watching as he falls headlong into several potential bosses' wordplay traps. It wounds him, and us by proxy. "The word 'resumé' makes me shit myself!" He gets a job cleaning cars. The slow, detailed imagery of this is fascinating; rivulets of cleansing suds and water, a rebirth of sorts for Jones.

Is he mentally ill? Probably. He speaks in the language of the paranoid and anxious. "I'm the one who lives in me!" "My soul's pretty damaged right now." A scene of road rage, where he's one step from murdering another driver with a screwdriver. His life is one full of wounds that simply won't scab over and heal.

It's pretty clear, halfway through, that we're watching a classic tragedy. A story of a well-meaning man who, through his own character weaknesses and happenstance, falls from grace. There are very strong abstract sequences after shocking events, drawing the viewer ever deeper into the evolving and involving story.

Jones' natural realistic acting is key to our empathy. His short, detailed plot is linked using short tone poems; dialogue and action scenes are played out only to music. Their voiceless acting and Courtin-Wilson's choice of music play out strongly.

The movie opens on a painting of a mighty battle in the heavens, led by the Norse thunder god, Thor. There are few things more epic than a dissection of the human psyche. Like the Australian neo-realist masterpiece Snowtown; there are moments in this picture that curdle the guts and freeze the heart.

Reviewed on: 19 Jun 2012
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The true story of a man who, fresh out of prison, tries to make a new start.

Director: Amiel Courtin-Wilson

Writer: Amiel Courtin-Wilson

Starring: Daniel P Jones, Leanne Letch, Tony Markulin, Jerome Velinsky, Leanne Campbell

Year: 2011

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: Australia


EIFF 2012

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