By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Their homes get demolished.
Jessica (Elizabeth Alexander) is a quiet woman who suddenly finds herself embroiled in a heated battle between homeowners and developers who want to build beachfront property on their land and tearing down their homes in the process. Jessica’s father (Alexander Archdale) is one of the homeowners whose place will be destroyed if the developers have their way. Since she has no experience in fighting these matters she employs the assistance of local union leader Elliot (John Hargreaves) to help her in her fight and the two quickly start-up a relationship, but just as they feel they are making some headway Jessica begins to get harassed by complete strangers who break into her home and threaten her life unless she agrees to back-off.
This film is based on the same real-life incident that was also the inspiration for Heatwave, which came out a year after this one. What I found so interesting is how both films took the same incident, but managed to veer into two very diametrically opposite directions with it. Heatwave viewed the situation from all different perspectives including that of the antagonist while this one only looks at the viewpoint of the lead character and uses the premise as a catalyst to what surmounts to being a basic thriller.
While I felt Heatwave was the superior film I did feel this movie was better at creating an emotional impact with the viewer. You get to know the residents better here and are more sympathetic to their cause as well as witnessing the human side and its impact. The shots of houses getting torn down is especially strong as well as the shot near the end where you see the crumbling skeletons of the buildings all in a row and looking like remnants of some sort of war zone.
The film suffers from the weak presence of its lead actress whose performance comes off as being much too rehearsed and lacks any type of spontaneity. Hargreaves, who became one of Australia’s best known lead actors, is wasted in a benign supporting role and is not seen very much. Archdale practically steals it in a touching portrait of an old man clinging to the only thing he has left, but the pronounced bags under his eyes almost becomes a distraction.
The film’s final 20 minutes are the best. This is where Jessica finds herself kidnapped and hung upside down over the side of a tall building, which is quite intense, as well as a myriad of almost surreal events where she runs into evil people and ugly situations wherever she turns including that of a humiliating and unnecessary full body search while inside the seemingly safe confines of a police station.
The story though veers way off from what actually happened making this an almost fictional account and barely related to the real Juanita Nielsen whose true-life story inspired this one. The real event had far more interesting twists and I’m not sure why neither film chose to stick to the facts and it almost begs for a talented filmmaker to come in and create a film that examines the events and people as it actually occurred.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: October 1, 1981
Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes
Director: Donald Crombie
Studio: Forest Hill Films
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I agree that Heatwave was the superior film. This one, despite its good intentions, too often veered towards melodrama. This film did however leave a strong feeling of the collusion between developers, corrupt police, underworld fixers and thugs, and venal politicians, which pretty much hit the mark for Sydney in the 70s. If this film had had Judy Davis (from Heatwave) it would have been better. Liz Alexander is ok, but not in the same class as Davis.
I agree Davis is definitely the better actress.