banner image

:: Black and White

From a screenplay by well-known writer Louis Nowra, director Craig Lahiff provides us with a fascinating Australian drama laced with the legal framework behind a murder case that carries racist overtones. He has cast some talented actors in demonstrating the gripping off-courtroom scenes and general affecting nature of the key characters.

It is 1958 in Adelaide, and an Aboriginal man, Max Stuart (David Ngoombujarra) is charged with the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl. A well-spoken, small-time lawyer David O’Sullivan (Robert Carlyle), who has dealt simply as a legal aid representative lawyer, comes into the big time in his efforts in defending his new client. Upon hearing the details, he gained a belief in Max’s innocence, but he has to place all his strategies and limited experience into battling the established legal fraternity. Along with his colleague Helen Davaney (Kerry Fox), they work hard for Max. The Crown prosecution is lead by well-established lawyer and budding Chief Justice, Roderic Chamberlain (Charles Dance).

O’Sullivan gets into the action and becomes aware that Max had been mistreated by the police and forced into a confession. Against formidable odds, O’Sullivan and Davaney don’t have much of a chance, yet their determination sees them appeal to higher courts, including going to the Privy Council in England. After that attempt fails, a surprising ally comes to support the underdog. A young newspaper boss Rupert Murdoch (Ben Mendelsohn), starts to stir the pot in his efforts to lift his newspaper’s profile. It becomes a tense scenario as the small-town lawyer (O’Sullivan) matches up to an arrogant, calculating Queen’s Council (Chamberlain) in a classic confrontation.

True stories are often seen as more riveting and fascinating. Black and White is an absorbing and intelligent film with wonderfully talented actors to bring the power and frustrations of the story. Robert Carlyle is a fine British actor who brings humility and a quiet determination to his role, without being over-zealous. Charles Dance, Frank Gallacher, and Roy Billing are all experienced actors. Dance is terrific as the cold opposite to Carlyle. David Ngoombujarra is very effective in his role as the accused, while Ben Mendelsohn entertains as a young Rupert Murdoch. The music score by acclaimed composer Cezary Skubiszewski is also worth noting.

The title may put one in a false sense of security because the story will unfold left to right, up and down, and certainly can’t be seen as black and white. This is an affecting and generally satisfying film that, despite being a little more restrained than expected, should be well respected.

Screening at Cinema Nova and the Kino Cinemas