Tag Archives: Simon Baker

The Violent Kind

High Ground

by Brandon Thomas

The Aussie western is the kind of sub-genre not known for pulling punches. John Hillcoat’s The Proposition and Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale not only embrace the revenge tropes of the genre, but they also don’t shy away from the brutality of Australia’s colonialist past. The violence and lack of humanity shown to Australia’s aboriginal population is at the heart of High Ground.

In 1919, army sniper Travis (Simon Baker, The Devil Wears Prada and Land of the Dead) leads a raid into the Northern Australian bush that results in a massacre when his men open fire on defenseless men, women and children. Travis finds a lone child survivor, Gutjuk, and delivers the boy to a nearby Christian mission. Years later, another survivor of the massacre, Baywara, is raiding other missions and has killed a white woman. No longer a lawman, Travis is forced into helping authorities track and capture Baywara with the help of a now-grown Gutjuk (Jacob Junior Nayinggul).

There’s no getting around Australia’s horrific past with a movie like this one. Thankfully, director Stephen Johnson and writer Chris Anastassiades give plenty of voice to the aboriginal characters. Gutjuk is the heart of the film, and his pull back-and-forth between worlds gives the film some of its best drama. It’s a role that could have easily been nothing more than a wide-eyed observer. However, the sense of injustice that begins to boil over within Gutjuk allows the character to make those “morally gray” decisions that are a staple of the western.

High Ground isn’t the kind of fist-pumping movie that emulates the films of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns. The action sequences aren’t about excitement. They all come with consequences. Johnson goes to great lengths to stress that this violence isn’t cool. That this violence is used to subjugate, to silence.

Baker gives one of his best performances to date as Travis. There’s a lot of unspoken history happening within the character that anyone with a knowledge of Australia’s connection to World War I will understand. The horrors of that war weren’t left behind on the battlefields of Europe. They followed these men home and manifested in atrocities of their own. Baker plays this with a quiet intensity that erupts through bursts of violence. It’s a character begging for forgiveness through his actions…a forgiveness he may never be granted. 

High Ground doesn’t match those larger-than-life widescreen epics of yesteryear, but it’s also not trying to be that. This is a contained, character-driven story that’s much more preoccupied with moral dilemmas than it is expansive vistas.

No Time Like the Present

Here and Now

by Rachel Willis

What would you do upon receiving the worst news of your life? How would you spend the next 24 hours?

These are the questions that plague Vivienne (Sarah Jessica Parker) upon learning she has a tumor. More tests are required to diagnose the nature of the tumor, but if it’s cancerous, she can expect to live another 14 months with aggressive treatment.

It’s telling that Vivienne is alone when she receives this information. From the beginning, director Fabien Constant creates a sense of loneliness around her. After receiving the devastating news, her next stop is a rehearsal for her upcoming 25th anniversary show. A number of band members have clearly been waiting, but Vivienne mollifies their annoyance with banal pleasantries. She doesn’t mention to any of them, including her manager Ben (Common), that she is sick.

Vivienne spends the next 24 hours wandering from place the place. The New York City backdrop perfectly captures the theme of isolation despite being surrounded by millions. Though Vivienne has friends, a concerned mother, a lover, and a daughter, it’s clear from the dialogue she has always maintained an aloofness around those who care for her.

Writer Laura Eason gives us just enough to understand Vivienne’s relationships without giving away too much. Her relationship with the father of her daughter, Nick (Simon Baker) is cordial, but it’s clear from his tone when speaking about their daughter, Vivienne hasn’t been the most engaged mother. She’s been too busy with her career.

Though the first act of the film manages to convey a lot of information in brief exchanges, and Sarah Jessica Parker aptly conveys the emotional anguish of Vivienne, the second half falls quickly into melodrama. The idea that Vivienne is desperate for a connection is conveyed by a number of trite interactions with a Lyft driver who happens to make repeat appearances in her life. The naturalness of the dialogue in the first half is replaced with brief, forced conversations about profound subjects, mainly the power of music.

It’s unfortunate that Hollywood has adopted the policy of casting actors in singing roles when they can’t sing. Gone are the days of overdubbing actors with quality singers. Instead, we’re forced to listen to Parker muddle her way through a cheesy song. And not once, but twice.

With a title like Here and Now, it’s not a surprise that the film takes a melodramatic turn, but it’s a shame since it had a promising start.

The Grommets of Oz


by Hope Madden

Quiet poetry is hardly what we’ve come to expect from a surf movie. But actor-turned-director Simon Baker offers exactly that in his elegantly familiar coming-of-age story, Breath.

Based on Tim Winton’s novel, the film follows two mates in coastal Australia as their childhood friendship faces the snarls of the onset of adulthood.

Pikelet (Samson Coulter) —a beautiful gangle of limbs and promise—is the only child of a humble but loving family. He and Loonie (Ben Spence) are inseparable, though their futures are destined to veer in wildly different directions. Before that happens, they will tumble toward adulthood on some dangerous waves.

The lads find an unlikely mentor in the form of a bohemian surfer. Bodhi…no, I’m lying. His name is Sando (Baker), and for every one of Point Break’s Hollywood-slick moments of waves, wisdom and gleaming tan, Sando offers authentic surf-tossed ruggedness and reflection.

This film is less about that one big one, the one that’ll make you famous. It’s entirely about the journey, the solitude and the fear—what an individual can make of those elements, what those elements make of an individual. It’s about life.

The young actors’ performances are wonderfully true and fresh, each easily articulating those days immediately before adulthood claims a child, determining his inevitable direction. Breath is most at home as these two boys bristle and bond, but slightly less honest as they separate and explore the world’s dangerous secrets on their own.

The lads are full of promise, though you can already see a darker path for one. The adults onscreen, including Sando and his wife Eva (played with appropriate chill by Elizabeth Debicki), represent the many possible ways that journey could go wrong.

Though Baker directed a number of episodes of his TV show The Mentalist, Breath represents his first venture into feature filmmaking. He shows a knack for authenticity and understatement—two elements sorely lacking in coming-of-age dramas, not to mention surf films.

Even the way he captures the water evokes the idea of imperfection and wonder, unlike those crystal blue, foaming tubes we’ve become used to.

It works well with Winton’s words, adapted for the screen by Gerard Lee. Both he and Baker seem to have crafted the entire, lovely effort around one nearly perfect line: Never had I seen men do something so beautiful, so pointless and elegant, as if dancing on water was the best and brightest thing a man could do.