DIRECTOR: Jonathan Adams
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: Jack Crombie
STARRING: Gareth Rickards (Buzz), Vincent Andriano (Abe), Sam Glissan (Scraps), Hayley Sullivan (Tori), Katie Garfield (Skye), Jamie Kristian (Eric), Adam Horner (Tom), Ernie Dingo (Wild Dog).
Set in the New South Wales bush, Buzz and Abe are Rovers first, and best mates second. With no links to the past, a Rover’s life is largely solitary and transitory: keeping to themselves and only coming together on special occasions like a 4 wheel drive “bush bash” competition which opens the movie in a thrilling burst of action and sound.
Lured by the offer of a large sum of money, Buzz reluctantly agrees to be a bush guide for a group of conservationists trying to locate and halt the development of a new mining site in the middle of the bush. Buzz’s only goal is to free himself from the mistakes of his past by paying off his debt, and move back into civilisation. He has little patience for the conservationists’ cause.
I was privileged to attend a screening of Rough Stuff with the director, Jonathan Adams, in attendance. Adams recounted his childhood watching the adventures of the American blockbusters Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Die Hard but he also revelled in the charm of Rob Sitch’s Australian tale, The Castle.
Adams knew he wanted to grow up and create big screen movies. He loved the silliness of characters of his favourite movies, the swirling soundtracks, big scenery, big explosions, lots of action (but not so much the romance). Mostly, he wanted to make an Australian movie that people would buy a ticket to see in the cinema.
Rough Stuff is a rambunctious 4 wheel drive adventure. Personally, I have zero interest in 4WD or “bush bashing”, but this film held me close to it and I enjoyed the ride.
While a lot of its elements are clearly influenced by the director’s love of American blockbusters, Rough Stuff is very much an Australian film. A subtle Australian humour is written into the script and the characters are both believable and at times, stereotypical, but respectful and endearing.
Buzz, the protagonist, was carefully crafted to be a hero with no exaggerated heroic qualities. He was a troubled man who felt remorse for the actions that lead him to run away to become a Rover. While loyal, he was careful not to involve himself too much in even his best friend’s life: neither of them knew their back story – their relationship was only about the here and now. Buzz was focused on his own redemption and resented the need to become involved with the group of conservationists.
There was a hint of romance/attraction between two couples in the film, but the director steadily steered clear of it, no doubt to appease any viewer who would be indignant of any interruption to the action.
The thrilling score composed by Ned McPhie and Matt Rudduck heroically companioned the film’s adventure and action.
Adams described the anxiety (and pure luck) of capturing the closing scene of the film. A one-chance shot: a drone-filmed, steady dolly back from a cliff’s edge with a perfectly timed pan capturing the peach and orange colours of the sun as it sets over the expanse of the enormous horizon, without rain, cloud or strong winds to ruin the shot, which had plagued the location days before, and days after this shot was captured.
Adams’ dream is to take Buzz on other adventures, spinning this idea off into a serial, once again following in the footsteps of Star Wars and Die Hard.
At the time I saw the film (March, 2017) Adams and his producers were preparing for a European tour. Adams was confident that the film would do well in Europe, and I agree with him. I couldn’t fault this film at all. The Australian landscape plays her classic role of beautiful siren, no doubt luring overseas visitors to travel the extraordinary distance to see her in all of her glory first hand. The understated casting of Buzz was an ode to honest film making: rather than getting a better known lead, they cast an Australian actor, Gerard Rickards, who had lived in the area his entire life, in which the film was set, and who had worked as a jackaroo driving 4WDs. However, I can’t help but wonder what the late Heath Ledger would have done for this film and Australia’s film industry, had it been possible.
If this film is a sign of the direction the Australian film industry is going, then that’s great news for its future. Adams has written and directed a film which has all the sophistication and standards audience expect from filmmakers today, without making it a sad copy of American films.