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Film Of The Week: A warning shot from the recent past

MARIA DUARTE recommends a chilling dramatisation of a gun massacre that ravaged a Tasmanian town in 1996, and which highlights how easily another mass shooting could happen in Australia today.

Nitram (15)
Directed by Justin Kurzel


BASED on Australia’s worst mass shooting, at Port Arthur in 1996, this quietly powerful drama examines what led to the horrifying event and attempts to understand how and why it happened, while shining a spotlight on the country’s growing gun issues.

Set in the mid-90s, the film is viewed through the eyes of the gunman, a young man with mental health issues nicknamed Nitram (a phenomenal Caleb Landry Jones), who lives with his father (Anthony LaPaglia) and his controlling mother (Judy Davis).

Most of the drama is spent exploring Nitram’s (the real killer’s name spelt backwards) life which is one of feeling isolated and frustrated at not fitting in.

That is until he meets Helen (Essie Davis), a reclusive heiress, who befriends him and accepts him for who he is. However, when their friendship comes to a tragic end he begins to spiral out of control and descends into a dark and angry place.

Writer Shaun Grant and director Justin Kurzel (both of True History of the Kelly Gang) reunite to deliver a complex yet sensitive character study of a man who was failed by the healthcare system in obtaining the help that he needed as well as examining the ease with which he was able to purchase semi-automatic weapons, leading to a horrendous final act which could have been averted.

The most chilling scene is when Nitram enters an arms store and tries out an AR15 and some shotguns. He is informed he doesn't need a licence for those, but if he wanted a handgun they could not sell it to him without one.

He buys a number of weapons, plus ammo, without any background checks — mind-numbing.

The film is a stark reminder that a massacre could happen again — there are now more firearms owned in Australia than in 1996, and no state or territory has been fully compliant with the National Firearms Agreement brought in after the Tasmanian massacre in which 35 people were killed and 23 others were injured.

It aims to be a springboard for much-needed discussion, and one that the US clearly needs too.


In cinemas


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