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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

The Reckoning

This would be a good thriller if it was made in America twenty years ago. As a modern Australian film, it's baffling.
By Lee Zachariah
September 09, 2014
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The Reckoning

This would be a good thriller if it was made in America twenty years ago. As a modern Australian film, it's baffling.
By Lee Zachariah
September 09, 2014
  shares

Detective Robbie Green (Jonathan LaPaglia) is called in to investigate the murder of his former partner, Detective Jason Pearson (Luke Hemsworth). Green and his new partner, Detective Jane Lambert (Viva Bianca), find themselves on the tail of two runaways, ultra-religious cancer-ridden Rachel (Hannah Mangan Lawrence) and her unstable boyfriend, AJ (Alex Williams), who are filming a “documentary” as they seek Biblical retribution for the drug-related death of Rachel’s sister.

If this sounds like the type of story (and character naming conventions) of an American film circa 1993, you wouldn’t be far off. The Reckoning, despite being filmed in Perth and featuring an Australian cast, feels like as if its main concern is ensuring that every element be a facsimile of US thriller tropes. LaPaglia’s Green is a short-tempered alcoholic who is trying to be a good father despite being married to the job. Priests wait in candlelit gothic churches to talk wisely to those seeking guidance. High-tech, CSI-style equipment can be used to facially identify anyone spotted on a security camera. And so on.

This aping isn’t inherently a bad thing. Even the best Australian films are criticised for not even trying to appeal to mass audiences, and the ones that do are so often dismissed as being populist. An industry that produces as few films as ours does cannot afford sub-genres, and so there’s little patience for films that are not all things to all people.

So with the wider context established, let’s pull back before we fall into the trap of reviewing the industry instead of the film. As a gritty crime thriller, The Reckoning is moderately successful. It’s diversionary, predictable, derivative and silly, and there’s no denying that there’s an audience for that.

It’s slick, too. The kind of slickness that will make it palatable to someone who wants to have something on in the background when it finally does the home video and TV rounds. But there’s little in here that would interest a modern audience looking to plonk nearly $20 down for a night out at the cinema. It’s not just the story and style that feels dated, but the idea that this possesses anything to distinguish it from a thousand other similarly themed thrillers.

Everything in The Reckoning is achingly American, and this would be annoying if it wasn’t so obviously deliberate. This is a film with its eye firmly on international sales and goes out of its way to filter out anything that makes it feel Australian.

The religious angle, for instance, is weirdly anachronistic, with a priests talking in haughty “my child” this and “the Lord says” that dialogue. Blurry number plates are zoomed in on and enhanced into the sort of clarity that only made sense about twenty years ago when nobody knew how video worked. If all this sounds like nitpicking, well, yes, it is. But it is these details that make or break a film, and with a plot that is as by-the-numbers as this one is, we rely on details to turn it into something more interesting or unique.

The Reckoning is a fascinating film for all the wrong reasons. It is out of time, decades too late to be of any interest, and so desperate to cover up its country of origin that its edges are sanded down into something that is ultimately of zero consequence.

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