Tim Winton’s The Turning

Rose Byrne as RAE - The TurningProduced by Robert Connolly
Starring Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Richard Roxburgh, Miranda Otto, Myles Pollard, Dean Day-Jones

Noted Australian filmmaker Robert Connolly (Balibo, Underground: The Julian Assange Story) has brought together an almost unprecedented assemblage of talent for this ambitious adaptation of Tim Winton’s short story collection.

18 directors, including Connolly himself, Justin Kurzel (Snowtown), Claire McCarthy (The Waiting City), Warwick Thornton (Samson And Delilah), and actors David Wenham and Mia Wasikowska, both of whom make their directorial debut, each tackle a story from Winton’s collection, and the results are very good, with occasional touches of brilliance.

For that we should be grateful. Anthology films such as this are often a hit and miss affair and the standard on display here is not just statistically unlikely, it’s damn near miraculous. While there may be variations in quality from short to short, all resonate in their own way, and all are possessed of a striking sense of place, character and Australian culture.

It’s difficult to pick a standout from such a range and, indeed, there’s no doubt that each segment will strike individual audience members differently, but a few notables spring to mind, particularly the eponymous story, in which Rose Byrne features as an abused wife casting about for a way out, physically or psychologically, from her violent, trailer park existence. Wenham’s piece of the pie, Commission, is a strikingly subdued piece in which an estranged son (Josh McConville) travels to a remote, ramshackle mining camp to tell his father (Hugo Weaving, excellent as ever) to inform him of a tragedy that has struck the family he abandoned years ago. On the lighter side, Reunion, directed by Simon Stone, carts the Christmas Day misadventures of a middle class family played by Richard Roxburgh, Cate Blanchett and Robyn Nevin.

For all the disparate styles and approaches on display, there’s a strange unity to The Turning as a whole, engendered not by fidelity to an aesthetic but to a standard of craft. All involved bring their A-game, committed to telling each story as well as they possibly can.

At times it’s a jarring journey, with individual pieces ending abruptly, and at times we’re left with a longing to spend more time with these indelible characters, even as we’re drawn inexorably into the next chapter. What works in a short story collection, structurally speaking, is not necessarily the best fit for a medium where the audience’s time spend is more constrained, but it’s hard to say if a different approach would have worked – the chronological reshuffle employed in Cloud Atlas would not have been appropriate, for example.

Intelligent, challenging, ambitious and often quite beautiful, The Turning has a scope and sweep all too rare in modern Australian cinema. Its theatrical release has been deliberately constrained, so make a move to see this one sooner rather than later – you won’t regret it.