Australia, Sue Brooks (2003)
This is an amazing and thoroughly engrossing film. An Australian geologist (Toni Collette) isn’t too thrilled when her partner bails and she has to play driver/tour guide to a visiting Japanese businessman. His father owns a percentage of her company, so she’s obliged to drive him from one geologic site to another, enduring bad karaoke and dull car rides along the way. When their vehicle becomes stuck in the red sand of a remote dirt road, they’re forced to spend a freezing night in the desert and the film switches gears.
The experience breaks down barriers and the simmering dislike between the two is transformed into a physical relationship with a deeper connection. Then, as they continue their travels through the Outback, (Ian Baker’s cinematography of the Australian wilderness is beautiful,) just as you think the movie is headed toward its inevitable ending, something happens that takes the story off track and gives it tremendous impact. The less said the better.
Toni Collette owns this movie. She gives a performance at the top of her game, demonstrating why she’s one of the finest actresses in her generation to work in the shadow of one-note star performers like Julia Roberts. The last third of the film is especially good; Collette’s performance is utterly convincing. Thank God for films made outside the Hollywood factory—Japanese Story stays true to the emotion and steers clear of H’wood clichés and tidy endings.
Final Word: Blink and you missed it in the theatre, which is a shame. This is an extremely rich film that deserved to be seen by more people on the big screen. Luckily, it’s available on DVD.[*****]