Last Ride (2009)
“Are some bonds meant to be broken?”
Director: Glendyn Ivin
Cast: Hugo Weaving, Tom Russell, Anita Hegh
Synopsis: A young boy travels across Australia with his father, who’s wanted by the law for committing a violent crime.
The performance of Hugo Weaving is what makes Last Ride, an otherwise desultorily written road-movie, worth watching. Playing an intensely unlikeable man, the kind of man whose countenance ensures space around him at any bar he sits, regardless of how crowded, Weaving manages to build a characterisation that hints at a glimmer of knowing intelligence beneath an otherwise gruff exterior. Kev, the character he plays, is a violent criminal with anger management issues — hardly the usual lead character material. And writer Mac Gudgeon resolutely refuses to write anything on-screen that offers any hope of redemption, leaving Weaving’s performance alone to prevent the audience from being entirely alienated.
Last Ride follows Kev and his young son, Chook (Tom Russell) on a road trip into the Australian outback. Early on, Kev cuts his hair and beard in a service station toilet, suggesting that this perhaps isn’t a conventional father-and-son bonding voyage. But Gudgeon drip-feeds the audience the back-story to their trip, choosing instead to focus on illustrating the strained relationship they share. Kev isn’t above beating his boy if he feels he deserves it, a treatment that Chook initially seems resigned to, but of which he grows increasingly resentful the longer they are together. It looks as if father and son are locked into a cycle of abuse that dates back at least to the father’s own childhood. But there are indications that Kev might have been a different, better, man had things been different. Starved of demonstrative love as a child, he’s incapable of showing it to his own son, even though it’s clear from their quieter moments together that he feels a genuine love for Chook.
It would have been easy for Gudgeon to have made Last Ride a redemptive story, and to some degree it is, but while the pair’s odyssey does change both of them, Kev remains a deeply flawed man, prone to outbursts of violence and willing to commit crimes to get what he needs to survive. And the intermittent flashbacks first-time director Glendyn Ivin feed us, while never intended to justify Kev’s behaviour, go some way to softening our attitude towards him. So while Kev remains unredeemed, he does at least provide his son with one useful gift, teaching him something of worth which, in a symbolic final scene, suggests Chook has at least a chance of breaking the cycle within which he was previously trapped.
Last Ride looks terrific, with some beautiful photography of the Australian outback from Greig Fraser. For the most part, the movie is a two-header with Weaving and Russell sharing the majority of the screen time, and while it would be unfair to expect Russell to match the quality of Weaving’s performance, he does a good job of conveying the resignation and confusion of a troubled child who can never be sure which side of his father will show itself next. The film starts off very slowly, though, which might see many viewers switching off before things really start to gel, and while it would be untrue to say they will regret their lack of patience, Last Ride does coalesce into a worthwhile whole by the time the end credits roll.