Mad Bastards, 96.5 mins, rated MA15+, opens in cinemas 5 May 2011.

(This is my review as  published in the May 2011 issue of The New South Wales Law Society Journal)


The standard of films made by or with indigenous people in Australia in recent years is really quite extraordinary. Mad Bastards is the latest in a list of top quality films which includes Australian Rules (Goldman, 2002), Beneath Clouds (Sen, 2002), Ten Canoes (de Heer, 2006), and Samson and Delilah (Thornton, 2009),

Even less successful indigenous films, such as Bran Nue Dae (Perkins, 2009) –an over-the-top musical – and Stone Bros (Frankland, 2009) which the director has described as “Australia’s first indigenous stoner movie”, share a similar wry – dare I say black? – sense of humour.

It’s hard to put a finger on what makes these films stand out from their Australian contemporaries. There’s the obvious fact that they tell stories and describe people and places that are often new, fresh and intriguing to non-indigenous city-dwelling cinemagoers. But there’s something more to it than that. It has to do with the authenticity of these films. And that might come from the Aboriginal tradition of the collaborative effort: working in groups to produce a result where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Whatever the reason, Mad Bastards is a thoroughly enjoyable, thoughtful and instructive film – with great music.

Director Brendan Fletcher is credited as screenwriter. He recorded hours of stories gathered as he travelled around the Kimberly over several years. But he makes it clear that he wrote the screenplay in collaboration with three of his actors: Greg Tait (who plays the policeman, Texas), Dean Daley-Jones (who plays Bullet’s father, TJ) and John Watson (who plays the bush camp elder). They all brought their own experiences to the screen. Greg Tait was in fact the local copper at Hall’s Creek for nearly 17 years. Dean Daley-Jones is currently reconnecting with his own teenaged son, just as his character does in the film. And John Watson does take troubled young people on bush camps to bring them closer to their country.

This collaborative effort is reflected in the film’s opening, literally an incendiary beginning. A boy strikes a match, lights a Molotov cocktail and throws it at the front door of a house. The house catches fire. A policeman arrives. This scene came not from the director/screenwriter (Brendan Fletcher), but from the imagination of Lucas Yeeda, who plays the boy, Bullet, in the film. It happened this way: there’s a scene involving a group of wayward boys who had been taken out bush to reconnect with their culture and country. Director Fletcher suddenly realised he hadn’t told Lucas Yeeda what his “backstory” was. The cameras were rolling, and elder John Watson asked each boy in turn what trouble they had got into. “I lit a fire” was what Lucas replied. On the strength of this, Fletcher shot the dramatic opening sequence, at night, with the Molotov cocktail and the fire.

Also intimately involved in the film the legendary Pigram Brothers of the Kimberly and Broome. They, along with popular singer-songwriter Alex Lloyd, provide the music, and if you have not heard their music before, you are in for a treat. Co-producer Stephen Pigram explains the film’s title: “A mad bastard is our name for one who is dragging the net in the deep end where the crocodiles are. They are brave to the point of being mad. We were all mad at some point, young and full of stupidity because we’d been drinking.”

Mad Bastards stares straight into the face of many of the problems faced by indigenous people today: drinking, petrol sniffing, idle and troubled kids, domestic violence, disconnected parents, prison terms, loss of culture and language, hopelessness, and cyclical destructive behaviour. But it never preaches, and is rarely predictable. It’s also very funny. There’s a recurring theme of a men’s group that police officer Texas wants to set up. A woman asks him, “ What infrastructure do you need?” “A few snags, a loaf of bread and some paper plates?” ventures Texas. The men’s group meets several times over the course of the film, and the deadpan humour in these scenes is priceless, but in the end the group might be pivotal. It’s a beautiful comic and dramatic device, and it leaves us with a sense that the destructive cycle might be broken, after all.