Directed by John Hillcoat who has since directed The Road, this film is often labelled a Western but if it really is a Western, then it's a very peculiar one. The one thing that all Westerns are supposed share is the location, The Wild West of the USA, this film however takes place entirely in the Australian outback.
It is a British-Australian co-production with very limited US involvement and it has a cast made up almost entirely of British, Australians and Aborigines. The film includes the always fantastic John Hurt, the underrated Guy Pearce, surprisingly talented tough guy Ray Winstone, often overlooked David Wenham and extremely talented Emily Watson, the only American I can recall is Danny Huston who gave an excellent performance.
But despite what one might think, this film is still very similar in themes and in tone to the more familiar Westerns.
The film tales a tale of revenge, fratricide, family and justice against the backdrop of the conquest of Australia. Throughout the film, there is a lot of tension due to the fighting in between settlers and Aboriginals, although this is never shown directly in the film, it is always present and has a profound effect on the atmosphere of the film.
What really makes this film worth watching (apart from the outstanding cast of course) is the setting, Australia is an intriguing land and the time portrayed in this film is most interesting.
This film is an unflinching portrayal of male brutality and of the harsh conditions these people lived in, the set design and art design really reflect this, everything is dusty and filthy, including the people, flies swarm over everyone, dead of alive. This has got to be one of the most realistic depictions of conditions at that time ever put on film.
Not only is the period perfectly captured but the film is also extremely well shot, the cinematographer did an extraordinary job here, the colour palette is very vibrant, in fact it sometimes even seems fluorescent. I liked the fact that the film is so stylishly and carefully shot, as the result which is quite beautiful to watch is contrasted by the brutal and disgusting scenes and characters of the film.
Luckily though the film doesn't rely entirely on it's fantastic visuals and performances as some films tend to do, for films that do are often unsatisfying, this film has a very strong story and a lot more depth of emotion and poetry than I expected at first.
Highly recommended, especially for those who (like me) have been disappointed by the lack of quality Westerns over recent years, this one fully makes up for the mediocrity of such films as Appaloosa and 3:10 To Yuma and joins the ranks of such great modern Westerns as Open Range and Dead Man.