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Strangerland Blu-ray Review

Strangerland (2015) movie poster Strangerland

US Theatrical Release: July 10, 2015 / Running Time: 112 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Kim Farrant / Writers: Fiona Seres, Michael Kinirons

Cast: Nicole Kidman (Catherine Parker), Joseph Fiennes (Matthew Parker), Hugo Weaving (Detective David Rae), Lisa Flanagan (Coreen), Meyne Wyatt (Burtie), Maddison Brown (Lily Parker), Nicholas Hamilton (Tommy Parker), Jim Russell (Alan Robertson), Sean Keenan (Steve Robertson), Bronwyn Penrith (Rose), Trangi J. Speedy-Coe (Jarrah), Morgan Junior Larwood (Slug)

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Nicole Kidman may be one of Australia's greatest contributions to cinema, but it's been easy to forget. That's because since making it in Hollywood at the beginning of the 1990s, Kidman has hardly looked back. Her output has varied from mainstream movies to independent ones
and she's worked repeatedly in the UK and Europe and for directors from all over the world. Still, apart from her two Baz Luhrmann movies, essentially American productions that were shot in Australia, the Nashville-based Kidman has hardly returned to her homeland for acting work. Until now. Strangerland is a bona fide Australian film and Kidman's first definitive one of those -- sorry, Australia -- since 1989's Dead Calm.

In Strangerland, Kidman plays Catherine Parker, a woman living in the Australian Outback with her pharmacist husband Matthew (Joseph Fiennes) and two adolescent children. The family has recently relocated to the desert for a fresh start, but everyone is unhappy there. One day, the kids -- head-turning, sexually awakened 15-year-old Lily (Maddison Brown) and night wandering younger brother Tommy (Nicholas Hamilton) -- go missing. Their parents are reluctant to go to the police, still stung by an incident in their old town, where Lily disappeared as part of a bigger and troubling situation.

The Australian mystery "Strangerland" stars Nicole Kidman as a mother whose two children go missing.

The film keeps us in the dark regarding that experience, which clearly hangs over this one. But soon, Catherine and Matthew have no choice but to file a missing persons report, trudging up painful memories in the process. David Rea (Hugo Weaving), the divorced detective handling the case, takes the children's vanishing seriously and refuses to discuss the matter with his Aboriginal girlfriend (Lisa Flanagan), but he isn't above shredding some evidence to protect his girlfriend's brother Burtie (Meyne Wyatt), who has been doing some housework for the Parkers.

Burtie strikes us as a potential suspect, but then not even the Parker parents elude suspicion. Matthew has a restraining order against him for his violent role in the family's past and Catherine, from whom Lily has inherited her recklessness, seems to be on the brink of madness. The Parkers question their parenting abilities and with evidently good reason.

Strangerland is an involving mystery. The film puts its interesting locations, which will strike most people as exotic, to good effect. It is suitably atmospheric, with nice cinematography able to convey the heat and discomforting uncertainty of the setting. (The movie is set in February, which is summer in Australia, and features a heat wave with temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius -- that's 104 Fahrenheit -- and a harrowing dust storm.) The Aborigine characters provide a hint of mysticism, but for the most part, the film succeeds with slow boil, small town storytelling that grips as you try to solve this mystery with an absolute minimum of misdirects and manipulation.

British actor Joseph Fiennes plays an Australian pharmacist in "Strangerland." Hugo Weaving is spared the usual heavy make-up to play David Rae, the chief detective investigating the crime.

It's been a while since Kidman's dramatic gifts have been widely celebrated. Several of her recent films, including Nine, The Paperboy, and Grace of Monaco, have been critical misfires and remained under the radar.
She appeared in the wonderful Paddington, but villain duties in family films are not typically the beneficiary of accolades. She'll have another opportunity to impress this year in a leading role of screenwriter Billy Ray's directorial debut, the English language remake Secret in Their Eyes. Even if that doesn't pan out as hoped, Kidman is genuinely good in Strangerland, standing up to the film's tall dramatic challenges as a sexually frustrated, grieving mother capable of making some really bad rash decisions.

Fiennes has proved himself to be less than a great actor, which is why his career, besides severely paling in comparison to his brother's, has stalled since he emerged in 1998's end-of-year costume crowd-pleasers Shakespeare in Love and Elizabeth. He is at least adequate here, enduring a few outbursts without making you laugh or want to make a GIF. Weaving, who is a bit out of his element in a film this small and scant on visual effects, makes for a compelling third lead, giving his lawman a believable hint of mischief to create doubt.

Director Kim Farrant and writers Fiona Seres and Michael Kinirons all make commendable and promising feature debuts here, indicating that the documentaries, television, and shorts they cut their teeth on were sufficient training.

Strangerland was not well-received by critics, two-thirds of whom gave it negative reviews. The movie never really had a chance to find an audience in US theaters, playing just 15 locations for, if Box Office Mojo is correct, all of three days in July to the tune of $17,472. The film gets a second shot at being discovered with this week's Blu-ray and DVD releases.

Strangerland Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Release Date: August 18, 2015
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($19.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The exotic locations of Strangerland are nicely rendered in Alchemy's clean, sharp, and vivid 2.40:1 Blu-ray transfer. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is consistently good, and its loud crescendo during the dust storm may have you hands reaching for the remote or to cover your ears, as surely intended.

Director Kim Farrant describes her feature debut. Nicole Kidman discusses her Australian return next some flowers.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray includes two HD featurettes: "The Cast" (8:23),
which cycles through the actors and their characters, and "The Story" (5:36), which collects remarks on, well, the story. Each piece makes use of cast and crew interviews plus a few behind-the-scenes looks.

In addition, Strangerland's HD theatrical trailer (1:45) joins the four SD trailers with which the disc opens in the Previews submenu: Kidnapping Mr. Heineken, The World Made Straight, Good People, and The Iceman.

The ordinary main menu plays a montage of scored clips. The insertless keepcase is topped by a cardboard slipcover featuring the same artwork as the keepcase cover and disc label.

As they search the desert for any signs of the missing children, Catherine Parker (Nicole Kidman) gives Detective David Rae (Hugo Weaving) her daughter's diary.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The solid Australian Outback mystery Strangerland deserves more attention and recognition than it got in its super limited US release. While its ending will frustrate those demanding closure, the journey there is compelling and thought-provoking. Alchemy's Blu-ray is a fairly standard affair, though the high quality presentation warrants praise.

Buy Strangerland from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Nicole Kidman: Australia The Railway Man Margot at the Wedding Billy Bathgate The Paperboy Just Go With It Nine
Joseph Fiennes: FlashForward: The Complete Series Camelot: The Complete Series
Australia: Animal Kingdom Jack Irish: Set 1 Under Capricorn The Sapphires Adore
Disappearances: Inherent Vice Ransom The Vanishing
New: The Casual Vacancy Madame Bovary A Little Chaos

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Reviewed August 21, 2015.



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