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Australia 2008
Directed by
Anthony Hayes
95 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Ten Empty

Synopsis: After a ten-year absence, Elliott Christie (Daniel Frederiksen) returns to his home in Adelaide for the christening of his half brother. Elliott, who is now 29, left home after the death of his mother, Jane, who suicided after a long bout of mental illness. Since then his father, Ross (Geoff Morrell), has married Jane’s sister, Diane (Lucy Bell). Elliott finds his brother Brett (Tom Budge) in a semi-catatonic state locked away in his bedroom, unable to cope with the world. Everyone fears that Brett has his mother’s propensity for mental illness and a battle ensues between father and son over what should be done. As the sordid secrets behind the cream brick veneer facade are revealed, the only voice of reason seems to be local publican, Bobby (Jack Thompson).

When Australian films look at the typical suburban working class family, they tend often to take the mickey out of it (The Castle, 1997, being he best known example. Director Hayes co-wrote Ten Empty with friend and fellow actor, Brendan Cowell who also has a small role as the rough-but-good-hearted Shane. Hayes says he wanted to write a film that was “an ode to fatherhood”. Ode may be an overly-poetic word here, but this solid film certainly lifts the lid on the problem of inarticulate males unable to face up to problems in their lives. The writers have captured the essence of the life in which they grew up – people leading “ordinary” lives but battling with parenthood, past traumas and communication problems.

Frederiksen , who is from a TV and theatre background) is strong as Elliott, who starts off being very emotionally-removed but who is forced to emerge from behind his well-constructed defencea, by the dysfunctional family he discovers after years of absence. Budge gets better with each film and there are a number of heart-breaking scenes featuring his understated acting. The stand-out acting in this film, however, comes from Morrell, an actor with 30 years of experience, largely on the small screen, behind him. Ross is initially a fairly unsympathetic character, being a borderline alcoholic, who gets aggressive and nasty after a few drinks. He seems unable to get in touch with his emotions and is constantly superficial in the way he relates. Certain scenes in which he berates everyone and shows amazing cruelty to his withdrawn son, Brett, are powerful and make one cringe, but in the end the underbelly of sadness and vulnerability he shows are very moving.

The writers of Ten Empty have a firm grasp on the issue of male emotional withdrawal and this makes certain scenes in which the men painstakingly reveal something tender, truly potent. This is epitomised by Jack Thompson who shows his extraordinary acting skill in his few but powerful scenes. Women generally take a back seat in this drama and yet there is a terrific minor character, Bernadette (Blazey Best), who displays a toughness much needed in this story’s fraught context. I was also struck by the film's haunting soundtrack but did come away with the fear that, as with so many worthwhile films of a serious nature, there will not be enough of an audience wanting to see this.




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