Incarcerated for 18 years after drunkenly murdering his friend, Viktor Khadem (Don Hany) is healed from his demons when rehabilitation officer Matt Perry (Hugo Weaving) entrusts in his care some injured birds of prey.
I hate birds, they’re dumb, noisy creatures. But it’s difficult to do so in this film. Cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit) captures the raptors in exquisite slow-motion, with the patience of a wild-life documentary. The film’s warm lighting creates scenes straight out of an Australian Impressionist painting. This aesthetic permeates Healing from the glorious aerial opening right through all its false endings.
The quality of the production and of the acting nearly saves the film’s heavy handed script and symbolism. The dialogue is occasionally awkward, the visual repetition frustrating. Healing is a redemptive drama set in a prison(ish) environment, and you can expect many clichés of the genre: the nasty gang-runner; the tough-but-sympathetic officer; the angry son (there are two); the marijuana stash. One silly turn in the narrative, which involved a picture frame, prolonged the film at least half an hour beyond the time it ought to have asked for. I got too excited when the film jumped from its outback corrective facility in Healesville to Southern Cross Station.
The title of the film is a somewhat laboured indication of what it is about. Healing rests on a comparison drawn between wild birds and prisoners, who must only be ‘kept for treatment… wild for release’. The drama resides in various places: between the prisoners; between them and the guards; between the main characters and their families; and between the prisoners and the birds who are to be released. Viktor Khadem is not the only one in need of healing, though his struggle to reconcile himself with his past, and to be reconciled to his son, is the most moving conflict. Their first scene together resonates powerfully due to assured choices from writer/director Craig Monahan (Peaches).
Hugo Weaving is paternal as officer Matt Perry, a grounded performance that echoes some of his previous work, while Don Hany as Khadem is as wounded, majestic and taciturn as the raptor he is charged to look after. Mark Leonard Winter’s performance as junkie inmate Shane is nuanced and compelling, his nervous shiftiness balanced well with kindness and aspirational honesty. The other actors manage to navigate the script with lesser degrees of agility, but provide enough of a context for these three to shine. However, the birds are the real focus of Healing. The slow-motion and close-ups may be excessive, but in every shot the birds assert their own distinctive personalities. The recurring blink of the raptor, eyes burning with light, may be film’s strongest symbol of the longing for healing and freedom the men share with the birds. This film was undoubtedly made because of these creatures.
Healing is screening in selected cinemas from May 8.