FILM: Prime Mover


Directed By David Caesar

Starring: Michael Dorman, Emily Barclay, Ben Mendelsohn, William McInnes, Anthony Hayes, Andrew S. Gilbert, Gyton Grantley, Lynette Curran

Australian cinema is finally getting smarter. In the dire straights that have become characteristic of the Australian film industry, many commentators have suggested that our filmmakers should be thinking globally when producing locally. Journalists Garry Maddox and Louise Schwartzkoff have said as much in their article for the Sydney Morning Herald in August, arguing that Australian films should be aggressively competing with Hollywood, crafting films to appeal to a wider audience and ultimately get them shown in a greater number of cinemas. This is all well and good but Prime Mover writer/director David Caesar is taking a different approach to tackle domestic film apathy. His film on truck driving cultures takes a niche product that is held especially sacred to the people of regional Australia, wrestles unceremoniously with its dualistic love/hate relationship and injects it with themes and meanings that only a local audience is likely to appreciate. And why not? Prime Mover rolls out so much romance, tragedy and laughs it is likely to reward anyone who goes out of their way to see it.

Thomas (Michael Dorman) is a talented pin striping artist who works for a truck business, but longs to own his own truck to burn down the highway even after his father is killed while repairing one. The beautiful Melissa (Emily Barclay) works in a service station across the road, and it is love at first sight for Thomas who wastes no time in sweeping the young gypsy off her feet and into his Ford Falcon. Although they try not to live up to their parents’ prediction of early pregnancy, it inevitably happens, they get married and Thomas visits a loan shark to pay for his prime mover to support the family. The pair moves to Broome to get more trucking work where they live out of a trailer. When Thomas begins missing the high repayments to the loan shark, the high workload and perils of the open road coupled with its long nights begin to take their toll on their young family. The hopeful beginning to this family is crushed down, redefined and resolved through some simple but difficult compromises that leave the kind of warm fuzzy feeling that has been missing in Australian film of late. Yes this is an Aussie battler story, but don’t run away; it is a good one!

The ensemble cast of some of the best up-and-coming acting talent alongside established Australian names should alone be enough to sell this film. Michael Dorman and Emily Barclay are a joy to watch. Their effortless, natural screen chemistry and cutely satirical Australianness will have you grinning along with their in-jokes. Within minutes you will have forgotten all about the train wreck they shared in the outstanding Suburban Mayhem, and see that these will be the next big names to come out of Australian cinema. Michael Dorman proves that he can handle a lead role in stride with his unguarded, cheerful character providing the beating heart of the struggling everyman that he represents. Ben Mendelsohn and William McInnes typically deliver solid performances, McInnes having to play both the cold, patriarchal trucking manager as well as the hard friend to Thomas.  You may notice Anthony Hayes playing three separate roles throughout the film, all various people in the trucking business that act to hold Thomas back, suggesting that they are all the same heartless person. Underbelly’s Gyton Grantley is also perfectly cast as a shady dept collector who provides some needed comic relief when things get serious.

Prime Mover covers so many bases that many will think the film is confused about what it wants to be. While it is primarily a love story, it also boasts elements of family melodrama, the musical, and also takes a unique approach to the Hollywood road movie. The road movie especially, informs many of the structural elements and conventions of Prime Mover, particularly the theme of male bonding through automotive technology. While there is little male bonding, there is plenty of conflict caused by Thomas’s divided attentions between wife and machine. In one amusing scene, Thomas pays a surprise visit to pregnant Melissa and invites her inside his truck. When it’s all over, Thomas refuses to leave the cab and come in for a cup of tea. The film’s unique take on the road movie genre is in the isolation of the protagonist, the film simultaneously romanticising the allure of the outback and demystifying its harshness and the hardships it brings. In his isolation, Thomas strangely becomes plagued by reoccurring hallucinations of Melissa as a wrench-wielding calendar pin up girl in overalls, and his deceased father as St Christopher, patron saint of travel. This is the sort of wry silliness that has become unique to Australian cinema and fits perfectly in Prime Mover.

The musical elements that are spotted throughout Prime Mover touch on something that is almost never touched on in film; the average person in this country sings more often then they are given credit for in cinematic representations. Because Prime Mover is far from a musical, the spontaneous singing of Thomas and Melissa give the whole tale a unique tone that is both playful and solumn. In one sequence, Thomas starts singing The Angels hit “Am I Ever Going to See Your Face Again” and his hallucinations start singing along. How many times have you heard that old truckie singing the classics around the pool table at the pub? How many people sing a sad song when their driving along missing someone? Perhaps not everyone but certainly more people than the average film would suggest.  Prime Mover thankfully argues otherwise.

Prime Mover was shot on location in Dubbo and Broome, whose residents will be treated to a special two week screening (along with other areas of regional NSW) before its national release, which is a bold move that may finally put more pressure on regional cinemas to show quality Australian films. If all goes to plan the communities that are represented in this beautiful story will take the bait, spread the word and David Caesar’s film might show on the local number of screens it deserves. If the audience won’t come to the movie, might as well take the movie to the audience…

You will love this if: you agree that a hearty, well-polished romance story is as good as a big shiny prime mover truck.

You will hate this if: you would rather swallow diesel than swallow another Aussie battler film.

Prime Mover will screen exclusively throughout regional NSW for a two week season from October 29, before opening nationally on November 12

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