The deadliest massacre in recent Australian history gets the film treatment it deserves. This is a respectable and inquisitive account of the few years in the perpetrator’s life that lead up to the shocking mass shooting he committed in Port Arthur, Tasmania in 1996.
The events that occurred in young Nitram’s (Caleb Landry Jones) life depict a whirlwind of immature behaviour, an unusual friendship, grave disappointments, and a lot of monetary freedom for a young man who’s so destructive. Nitram (based on Martin Bryant) is a bit of a trouble-maker, given his fascination with fireworks, but he still has a bit of determination in him. He starts a lawn mowing business to get out of his unemployment funk, going door to door, which is when he meets Helen (Essie Davis) a recluse living in a mansion with her many dogs.
They bond over their isolation, with Nitram even staying over as he much prefers her acceptance over the prodding of his mother (Judy Davis) and the apathy of his father (Anthony LaPaglia) – he also likes all the suits and cars they buy together. But Nitram is still an aggressively and dangerously immature person, whose misbehaviour results in Helen’s death. Heart-broken, but saddled with her large inheritance, he continues living in the mansion and buying stuff to play with – like assault rifles.
Nitram pieces together the portrait of a broken person, with many scenes showing Nitram stewing in his depression after being hit with another setback in his life. There’s no clear answer given to why he commits the shooting, there’s only what’s revealed by seeing his face as he internalises all his pain and plans.
The acting from all is incredible, with Caleb fully inhabiting this role of a man who, similarly to Arthur Fleck in Joker, responds to the injustices (and perceived injustices) with an aggressive outburst of violence. Judy Davis also does incredible work as someone who closely reflects upon her son’s behaviour, though she’s overly-demanding and frustrated beyond love at how her son never seems to help himself.
Nitram is hardly a cheery film at all, it delves deep into the man’s depression. Each scene pieces another part of his disturbed, isolated life together to linearly show what lead to his way of thinking. This film is able to get close to its material because it’s an intelligent and considerate account of the disturbed and the disturbing things they may do.