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NITRAM (2022)

Movie Review

Release Date: 03/30/22
Genre: Drama/Thriller

Studio: IFC Films

Nitram will be in theaters, digital rental and AMC+ on March 30th.


"Events leading up to the 1996 Port Arthur massacre on Tasmania in an attempt to understand why and how the atrocity occurred."


Nitram continuously toes a line between granting you a behind the curtain look into the character’s personality and life while showing no interest in diving into a rabbit hole, seeking any explanation to what may have led Nitram to do what he does. In movies depicting real-world events and people such as this; the human reaction is that you are hoping to find an answer. Why did this happen? How did this person become this way? Could they have prevented it? The answers to these questions are something no one will ever know with certainty. Instead of making a movie aimed to explore the how and why questions, it’s instead more interested in showing you how easy it can be for someone to contrive a mass shooting. The result is beyond chilling to even think about, let alone witness, the ingredients being brought together.

Opening with actual footage from a televised news program special from the Royal Hobart Hospital Burns Unit, Tasmania in 1979, we see a young Nitram discussing an incident involving playing with firecrackers which has resulted in hospitalization. When asked by the reporter if he will continue to play with firecrackers and if he’s learned his lesson, he says “Yes, but I’m still going to play with them”. An effective opening alone, that then cuts to Nitram at an older age (Caleb Landry Jones) doing exactly that, lighting fireworks in his backyard, much to his neighbors’ frustration. A transition that felt both brilliant and powerful. Presenting instantly, not much has changed going from boy to young man. A vivid and immediate glimpse into this character’s psyche. Nitram is a loner. His Mum (Judy Davis) and Dad (Anthony LaPaglia) seem to be accustomed to his socially awkward behaviors and child-like intelligence/emotions, yet are uncertain about how to deal with it. One of the several good examples of this is a scene where Nitram is setting off fireworks with local kids at a primary school. Unaware of why it’s dangerous and inappropriate until his dad shows up to stop him and take him home. The film displays Nitram’s problems and behaviors. The purpose isn’t to provide empathy for him or define his actions. I would argue giving us these moments throughout only further cement, they are of no significance to the subsequent mass shooting.

Almost more chilling than the film itself is the outright masterful performance by Caleb Landry Jones. Not only is this an award-worthy performance, which saw him claim the Acting Award at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, but it’s also one of the best performances I have ever seen on screen. If you didn’t know beforehand that he isn’t Australian (he’s from Texas), you would assume he is. His accent is flawless, it sounds entirely natural. Director Justin Kurzel has said Caleb Landry Jones worked with a voice coach but that also he insisted that Landry Jones watch re-runs of 1990s episodes of Hey Hey It’s Saturday, Neighbours and Home and Away. Accent aside, it’s the little nuances of the performance that you notice throughout the movie, such as the facial expressions and body language that makes it stand out. There are several scenes presented, where what Caleb Landry Jones is achieving acting-wise on-screen consistently blew my mind. 

Justin Kurzel has triumphed, where most movies dealing with a subject like this have stumbled. Nitram feels respectful of its intentions and makes it clear we are not watching to sympathize with our main character but to see how easy it is for something like this to happen. An ignored problem doesn’t go away. It gets repeated until we set actions in place. The single-person mass shooting tragedy that happened in Port Arthur, Tasmania (an island state of Australia) was enough for Australia to take action with gun law reform. Something the United States seems incapable of.

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