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Directed by Jasmine Yuen-Carrucan
Running time 89 minutes
Made for a mere $90,000 by Sydney-based JasmineYuen-Carrucan who has an impressive CV as an assistant camera operator on big budget Hollywood films and is here making her debut as a writer-director, Cactus is a road-cum-outback crime saga that owes much to American movies set in the badlands of Dakota and Wyoming and such like dustbowl states.
The film opens with an unknown male being attacked and drugged at night before cutting to the main scenario – a long distance drive in a red Ford across the vast Australian Outback (the film was shot inplaces such as Wilcannia, Broken Hill and Cobar, the arid expanses around which are nicely captured by cinematographer Florian Emmerich ) with assailant/driver, John Kelly (Travis McMahon) and his captive, professional gambler Eli Jones (David Lyons). In between comes a titivating scene in which the Ford is stopped for speeding by country cop (Bryan Brown, tricked up as Tommy Lee Jones Downunder) who doesn’t bother to inspect the car which we are soon to find out has the kidnap victim in the boot.
The appearance of Brown (who also executive produced) of course triggers the expectation that he will turn out to be significant to proceedings but for the most part the film is a two-hander between McMahon and Lyons. There are strengths and weaknesses here. Both men acquit themselves well and the characters are well drawn but the dialogue is too often too banal and too steeped in the Australian vernacular to comfortably fit the American model so expertly realized in films such as the Coen’s No Country For Old Men. This is particularly apparent with the appearance of truck driver Thommo (who in a poor casting choice is played by Shane Jacobson who not only will forever be associated with Kenny but is simply not a good actor). Yuen-Carrucan has evident directorial skills but the writing needed to have a lot more brio to work
Whilst the depiction of the growing bond between the two men is well-handled, in the final act this assumes an unintended mawkishness and even more problematically the re-appearance of Brown asks us to make some very large presumptions none of which are verifiable and the effect will leave most audiences perplexed.
There are some admirable elements but there are also nearly as many that are mis-handled and given the evident potential of the material, that is a pity.