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Something to watch tonight: Wednesday 15 November
Out of the Blue (Sarkies, 2006)
The film selection on TVNZ+ is getting deeper and better all the time but I am especially appreciative of the local movies on the slate.
While there are some older films that I would love to see added – rights and residuals from early New Zealand film and television are restrictive for fans but important for directors, writers and actors – you can get a pretty comprehensive history of New Zealand cinema from TVNZ+ alone.
Telling stories from real life can be fraught in a country this size. Everyone seems to know someone who was involved which means there are lots of opinions and sensitivities to navigate.
Robert Sarkies’ 2006 portrayal of the horrific Aramoana Massacre of 1990 was perilously close to the traumatic lived experiences of many people but managed to avoid being exploitative.
Jean-Luc Godard once said that cinema was “truth at 24 frames per second”.
Like most absolutes that phrase also works in reverse: the stunt man hasn’t really been shot and the movie star can’t really fly a space-ship – we are being lied to at 24 frames per second.
What, then, do we make of the phrase “based on a true story”? Are true stories somehow truer? In the case of Robert Sarkies’ Out of the Blue, it’s true and you really wish it weren’t.
David Gray’s attack on his Aramoana neighbours in 1990, with extreme firepower and a complete absence of conscience, was inexplicable then and not much better understood now. Sarkies’ film doesn’t attempt to explain why but you do get a vivid idea of how it might have felt to be hunted by a real monster in your own backyard.
It doesn’t all work. Dialogue often seems like a shortcut to character rather than something a real person might actually say. The anachronistic use of some “greatest kiwi hits” to evoke a period where NZ music was mostly notable for its absence doesn’t help. The film goes from being unbelievable because of a clunky script to being unbelievable because we really don’t want to believe it. Once the action starts, Sarkies’ excellent direction comes to the fore and the film hits its emotional targets with admirable accuracy and power.
I must make special mention of the sound design which made the gunfire seem so un-Hollywood – I don’t know what gunfire actually sounds like but it seemed totally believable and quite terrifying.
I didn’t mention it in this review but Matthew Sunderland’s performance as Gray was spine-chilling.
Sarkies, I’m told, is in production on another true and important New Zealand story and I’m really looking forward to it.
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Where to find Out of the Blue
Aotearoa: Streaming on TVNZ+
Australia: Not available
USA: Streaming on Tubi
UK: Streaming on Freevee and Icon Film