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New Release Review (VOD) - RISE

Filmmaker Mack Lindon's dramatisation of his wrongful incarceration in an Australian prison.




Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Mack Lindon

Starring: Nathan Wilson, Martin Sacks, Marty Rhone, Erin Connor



Rise is a bit like a prison sentence; at the start you’re unsure what to expect, but, very soon, you find yourself trapped within the solid narrative, and intimidated by the forceful characters. That’s as far as the metaphor goes though, as, in a complete contrast to the prison experience, Rise is never boring.


Is there a subgenre that captivates more insistently than the prison drama? From Midnight Express to Papillion right down to telly’s inordinately popular Prison Break, penitentiary plotlines endure for a rap sheet of reasons. Primarily, detainee drama allows us the removed exploration of social horrors: taboos such as rape, brutality and various other contraventions are all safely locked up behind the bars of the screen, where we can view such transgressions at our own discretion. Representations of the prison become microcosmic of certain cultures, stereotypically depicting a society wherein different ethnicities coexist in a tribal segregation, a heightened community characterised by brute strength and uneasy alliances, and where drugs and sexuality form an ersatz currency; a hyperbolic realisation of the worst aspects of everyday living. The genre is universally identifiable too, with a continuing archetype of the prison drama being the blameless patsy; there but for the grace of God go I, we worry ourselves, as another innocent is sent down by conspiracy of circumstance. And, as a mark of its prevalent appeal, the prison drama also runs the artistic gamut, from acceptable, Library of Congress catalogued (and overrated), The Shawshank Redemption to the disreputable WIP movies (faves: Black Mama, White Mama and Jonathan Demme’s Caged Heat, with its amazing tagline, ‘A Women’s Prison U.S.A. - Rape, Riot and Revenge!’); when the insalubrious subgenre spawns an even more exploitative proxy, then the prurient enthusiasm is pretty evident, as sharp and insistent as a prison yard shiv.


Writer/Director Mack Lindon’s Rise, an Australian prison drama (even typing those three words gives this exploitation fan an automatic thrill), is based on the true story of hapless Will (Nathan Wilson), a young nurse who is banged up for ostensibly spiking and assaulting a girl he meets on a night out. Will isn’t cut out for prison life - he’s more used to skateboarding and saving lives than shivs and shared sanitation, and he is also cursed with the angular, angelic beauty of a young DiCaprio, so you can imagine his worries. However, Will forges an unlikely alliance with Jimmy (Martin Sacks), a proper hard lag who takes a shine to our boy. Can Jimmy swallow back his daily porridge to one day prove his innocence? Will the other yardbirds find out what he’s in for? And, most importantly, is this Aussie prison drama more the intense drama of Bangkok Hilton (early Nicole Kidman - must see) or the shaky scenes of Prisoner: Cell Block H?


It doesn’t bode well as Rise begins its sentence. Will’s arrest and the events leading up to it are a little weak; following the most unconvincing nightclub sequence this side of Basic Instinct and the simple minded meanness of some cardboard cops - "we know you did it" - initial impressions of the film tend towards the soapy. However, when we are confined to the prison, and the brutal hierarchies that embody its insular structures, Rise enthrals. Will’s cell mate takes a shit in front of him by way of a welcome, following Jimmy cold cocking a cheeky newbie before the prison van has even set off. It’s almost as if Lindon’s opening is a bait and switch, one that makes the big house all the more intense. The outside world, exemplified by Will’s useless Simon Pegg-esque lawyer and a corrupt legal system, is slippery and false, and, whilst prison life is hard and vivid, within its four walls there are at least clear rules and chains of command.

It’s a theory borne out by Lindon’s faultless direction of his superb actors and also the film’s powerful realisation of prison life. As Will settles in to his big old lump of bird, we get the usual genre markers: quick close ups of baggies being passed hand to hand, corrupt screws, and the con with a conscience (it’s alright, he’s a nice bank robber). But the trajectory of Will’s character from pretty boy neophyte to tattooed, skin head Bible basher is urgent and fresh, with Will refusing to completely let go of who he is; a nurse at heart, he takes care of an old gripper and studies the law surrounding rape cases. We feel for this kid (Wilson is great in the role), and (as per) by the film’s lovely ending I was in bits.


In a way, Rise is a bit like a prison sentence; at the start you’re unsure what to expect, but, very soon, you find yourself trapped within the solid narrative, and intimidated by the forceful characters. That’s as far as the metaphor goes though, as, in a complete contrast to the prison experience, Rise is never boring, and, following its shaky start, doesn’t drag either, becoming an entertaining and even, in its surf soaked finale, inspirational addition to the prison drama subgenre.
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