Jacob Richardson | 31/01/2021
A slow-burn revelatory experience, highlighting the reality of colonial Australia.
It’s the 1930s in Arnhem Land, in the recently federalised Australia. Fresh from World War 1, Travis (Simon Baker) and Eddy (Callan Mulvey) are members of the police, and get caught up in a mission where things go awry, and they massacre an indigenous community. Flashforward a few years, and Travis is tasked by Moran (Jack Thompson) to team up with Gutjuk (Jacob Junior Nayinggul) to track down the young Aboriginal boys dangerous uncle.
Directed by Stephen Johnson, High Ground is full of impressive sweeping vistas, tense and bloody violence, and a decidedly western feel. The film uses the setting like a character, frequently lingering on the Australian expansive landscape. It also aids in the action itself - whether its incredible vantage points for sniper positions, or hidden enemies popping up from out of long grass.
The action in the film is delivered at an intriguing pace. Every action feels slow, deliberate, and insightful. It brings a sense of realism to the cruelty and brutality on display that crafts intrigue more than shock and awe. You feel like this is a real representation of what the shocking nature of that violent time would have been, rather than being shocked for the sake of clickbait news articles.
High Ground also has an odd pacing structure, with moments that feel like endings bubbling to the surface over and over. Perhaps this is a representation of the neverending cyclical conflict between white Australia and black Australia. Either way, it has an odd dual effect, creating both a frustrating dissociation wondering where the film is arcing towards, and an undeniable draw into the picture.
For a cast as diverse as the one assembled, it is also consistently well acted. On display, we have Hollywood actors (Simon Baker), Australian screen legends (Jack Thompson) and a debut performance from Jacob Junior Nayinggul. Irrespective of their diverse backgrounds, they all deliver cohesive and engaging performances with the material.
The only real issue with High Ground is the sheen. It feels like a movie that needs a grittier take, a little less bright and a little less saturated. As it stands, the film loses a little of the seriousness and tension that could have been associated with its hyper-violence, and in doing so misses a trick. The western elements are undercut by the bright tones, creating an almost budget-like feel.
High Ground is a tense Australian western, that does a great job of engrossing you in a violent colonial story that needs telling.