Noise (Matthew Saville, 2007)
I had heard mixed messages about this film and went in with an open mind. While there was much to like about it, and while it will undoubtedly have much mainstream appeal, it had many faults that a critical eye can't overlook.
I've always liked Brendan Cowell as an actor. He has a warm down-to-earth knock-about feel about his character. He looks very believable in his role as Police Constable Graham McGahan, and plays it fairly straight - most of the time. There are some occasions when he is too laid back. At those times he becomes too caricatured as a dinky-di Aussie. Cowell doesn't have to do that; he exudes that nature without trying. It drains his character of much of the subtlety that could have really lifted the film, and shows that the director doesn't trust the audience to understand him.
** SPOILERS AHEAD **
McGahan is suffering a debilitating condition, tinnitus (ringing in the head), that has taken him off regular duties and put him on the boring role of manning a police information caravan that is seeking public information about a killer at large. McGahan is so laid back that he takes no notes when public appear with information. We, the audience, are spoon-fed clues that are available to McGahan and that he should be passing to his superiors, but they've flown right over his head. I don't accept that tinnitus is the cause, because of the other ways in which he is able to function.
In fact, McGahan's character would have been better served not to have any affliction. Saville tries to juggle too many themes into the film that give it a busy feel, but some of the themes aren't sufficiently handled. Other than tinnitus, his wife doesn't need to also be a police officer. They don't need to have conflict. Saville bites off more than he can chew, and it clutters the story somewhat.
Without going into too many spoiling details (and there are many), basically the film lacks subtlety mostly in its handling of the characters. Things are spelt out too clearly, characters are too caricatured. The Senior Constable doesn't need to be a prick. The surviving female victim does not need to be so hysterical, nor diabetic. The lack of subtlety gives the film the feel of a telemovie, which is unsurprising because this is Saville's first feature after a ten year background in TV. I'm not saying it's a bad film, and it's quite good as a first feature. But it is frustrating, because there are many good elements in place that are let down by the flaws.
The characterisations and acting are mostly good, but inconsistent (I put that down to both the direction and writing by Saville). The lighting had many appealing features. McGahan was on evening night shift, so there were lots of dark scenes that looked nice. But, again lacking subtlety, Saville didn't know when enough of a good thing is enough. The film resorted to the pseudo-arthouse shadows and lighting that contemporary American television has become obsessed with and done to death. I say this with complete frustration: police lineups are not done in semi-dark. They are done in bright neon-lit rooms. Police stations and police caravans are not dark places. People sitting in their home in the day don't need to be in the semi-dark.
Arthouse has done arthouse lighting for years, and it's done with realism. The current hackneyed obsession with neo-arthouse lighting on television and cinema is an artificial device that drains a medium of visual verisimilitude. Crash did it, for example, as have countless other Hollywood films. West Wing does it, and it makes it unwatchable for me, regardless of the merit of its content.
There was, however, a fantastic camera sequence that I had never seen done before. It was subtle and effective as the camera moved keeping two characters in frame. But again, enough is enough. We don't need to see it over and again. I had a similar complaint with Copying Beethoven.
Smoking has long been used as a 'cool' device onscreen. This film used it too much. Way too much. A police caravan is a workplace. It's also a public office. I couldn't believe that smoking would be allowed in the caravan. Another small detail that will mean nothing to non-Melbournians but I found distracting: the murders took place on the Lilydale train line, but the police caravan was set up in Sunshine.
Until now I've overlooked a pretty major plot hole. Could a killer shoot everyone on a train carriage except for one person, and this one person be oblivious to it because she's listening to music on an iPod? As this happens at the start of the film, I let this one pass, because I wanted to enjoy the film and believe its premise. But in hindsight, after all the other faults, it doesn't really wash.
Lastly, the finale of the film was mostly well-done, though the helicopter spotlight at the end was gratuitous and fake. Noise was not a bad film, and considerably better and more subtle than most American films in its genre. It had many good ideas that were unfortunately not fully realised. Saville tooks risks with this film, but didn't fully commit to them. I hope he learns to take more with his next endeavour.
Dir, Scr: Matthew Saville Rating: MA Duration: 108 min Genre: drama/thriller Language: English Country: Australia Release: 3/5/07 Dist: Madman Entertainment Prod Co: Retro Active Films Prod: Trevor Blainey Sound Des: Emma Bortignon Phot: László Baranyai Ed: Geoff Hitchins Prod Des: Miriam Johnson Mus: Bryony Marks Cast: Brendan Cowell, Maia Thomas, Henry Nixon, Nicholas Bell, Katie Wall, Fiona Macleod, Maude Davey, Luke Elliot, Simon Laherty
No official website / IMDB