Heatwave (1982)

heatwave 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Fighting to save homes.

Stephen (Richard Moir) is an English architect employed by Robert (Bill Hunter) to construct a massive high-rise building in downtown Sydney that will be financed by Peter (Chris Haywood). However, the construction will require the demolition of several row houses and the eviction of those living in them. Kate (Judy Davis) takes up the cause by protesting the development and along with Mary Ford (Carole Skinner) are able to get a temporary block on the building project by getting the local builder’s union to instill a green ban. Stephen tries to fight this by attending the group’s meetings and airing out his side of the issue, but in the process finds himself more and more sympathetic to the residence especially when he finds out that Peter isn’t a completely honorable businessman and has no plans to use Stephen’s building design at all. When Mary mysteriously disappears he joins forces with Kate to try and find her only to unearth even more troubling and dark revelations along the way.

This film is based on a true-life incident and one of two movies made about it with the other one being The Killing of Angel Street, which will be reviewed here next month. The real-life event centers on Juanita Nielsen (1937-1975) who took up the anti-development cause when it was found that her home was pegged to be demolished in order to make way for three high-rise buildings in the Victoria Street neighborhood of Sydney. Her efforts managed to delay the project for three years, but the developer eventually became impatient and hired men to harass the residents who were trying to stop it and in the process kidnapped Nielsen even though her body has never been found and no one has ever been convicted of her murder.

The film here depicts Nielsen through the fictional character of Mary Ford, but what surprised me was that Ford is not the central person. Instead we only see her briefly at the beginning before she disappears and is generally forgotten while writer/director Phillip Noyce adds other fictional characters and story lines around her, which wasn’t as interesting as the actual case and I’m not sure why they didn’t just stick with the facts.

However, this still a highly intriguing thoroughly riveting plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat from the beginning. Part of what I liked about it is the way it shows things from the different perspective of the various characters while bringing out the myriad of complexities where nothing is black-and-white and no one is completely right or completely wrong. The viewer gets torn about whose side to be on, but fascinated with each new rapid-fire twist that comes about.

There are definite shades of L’Avventura here where a main character disappears and is essentially forgotten until it seems almost like she had never existed in the first place. The script offers no easy answers and instead shows in vivid and almost brutal detail how taxing and frustrating fighting for social change can be and the hopelessness one feels when they realize that all of their efforts may have made little or no difference.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 8, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated R

Director: Phillip Noyce

Studio: Roadshow Film Distributors

Available: VHS, DVD (PAL, Region 0)

2 responses to “Heatwave (1982)

  1. Pingback: The Killing of Angel Street (1981) | Scopophilia

  2. A nice review, especially the L’Avventura comparison, though this film moves at a faster pace than Antonioni’s atmospheric piece. I think Noyce rewrote the script to have both Judy Davis and Carole Skinner represent Juanita Neilson-type characters, so that one went on crusading after the other had disappeared. It’s a very interesting film, and captures the vibe of Sydney in the 1970s very accurately. It’s sobering to realise that wholesale destruction and redevelopment of countless suburbs of Sydney has occurred since 2000 with barely a whimper of this type of protest.

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