Next Monday (July 9) marks the UK Blu-ray release of the Australian-made drama Sweet Country, which focuses on a murder in the outback and, from then on, delves into racial politics and issues of prejudice. More than anything, for me, this movie throws into sharp relief the phenomenon of movies that are undoubtedly good, but also a little boring.
Any reasonable appraisal of Sweet Country would lead you to say that it’s a good movie. It has some great cinematography, a unique editing style that helps lift the intrigue and the performances – while often cartoonish – can be compelling at times. However, it’s painfully slow, suffers from sloppy dialogue and, overall, its story really doesn’t get under the skin of a rarely seen period in time that could have provided an in-depth look at Aboriginal culture and heritage.
In the two hours – yes, two hours – I spent with this movie, watching cartoonish white characters chase understated aboriginal characters across the pretty outback, it is unlikely you would have found me in a mood elevated above mind-numbingly bored. At the end, I said to myself: “yeah, it’s probably a 3-star movie”.
Its a funny mentality that objectively fine, but emotionally uninteresting, movies are still able to command generally positive reviews from viewers. Sweet Country’s greatest problem is that it picks an interesting period of time and doesn’t get under its skin in a meaningful way. The relationship between indigenous Aboriginal culture and white Australians in the remotest reaches of the world is fertile ground for reflecting a previously untouched period of history, or offering the chance to speak more widely about race relations. Granted, I’m a white Englishman, so it could be that Sweet Country’s context doesn’t relate to people as far away as possible from it, but there’s an issue in the execution here that a film about a place so warm and about characters with rich history on their shoulders could leave me so cold.
But, the film feels significant due to its portrayal of Aboriginal and white Australians on screen. Additionally, its technical prowess and nugget of an idea to tell a story in an artistic fashion leaves me thinking that maybe I, the individual, am at fault for finding it boring. Maybe I’m uncultured? Maybe I’m too dense to appreciate what I’m seeing?
Cinema history is littered with objectively good movies – in many ways classics – which any regular human, myself included, would tell you are boring. The Godfather films, while you can’t deny their craft, are still boring. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a fantastic technical achievement, but it’s exhausting with the tedium it elicits from the less pretentious among us. Interstellar is a more recent example of a technical masterclass without any emotionally engaging features.
Sweet Country is on a different scale to these movies, of course, but this is where it fits. It’s a technically and objectively fine film, but one that’s difficult to like. Three stars feels about right.
Do you agree with this take on Sweet Country? Can you think of any other movies that are boring, but obviously good? Let me know in the comments section.