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First Look Review - WATCH THE SUNSET

watch the sunset review
In one unbroken take, a biker attempts to escape his criminal life.







Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Tristan Barr, Michael Gosden

Starring: Tristan Barr, Michael Gosden, Aaron Walton, Annabelle Williamson, Chelsea Zeller, Zia Zantis-Vinycomb

watch the sunset poster

Watch the Sunset, Tristan Barr’s (the film’s star, producer, and, along with Michael Gosden, writer/director) experimental crime drama sets its grim tone early when it subjects its audience to a news footage montage of Australia’s drug subculture; mottled skin, filth, thin needles (not the thick cartoon syringes of, say, Pulp Fiction: in reality, the situation is always much smaller, always much sadder), lives completely ravaged. Neatly, for a drug whose administration involves plunged infusion, heroin’s effects respectively necessitate absolute absorption: it’s a life sentence, a drug that, sooner rather than later, sucks in the user’s entire existence.

watch the sunset

In the film’s first (and only!) intercut, we meet Danny (Barr), a petty criminal/biker who, as the trajectory inevitability runs, has got in over his rat-tailed head. A sordid off-camera party involving his bogan brother, a few thugs, and the rape of a gouched girl has led to this unlikely knight in shining leather absconding from the scene with the girl in tow. Of course, in the world of double crossing, rapey smack dealers, things are rarely that easily concluded, and (the girl dropped off at a motel), Danny finds himself on the run, scouring the streets for his estranged lover Sally (Chelsea Zeller) and their little girl Joey (Annabelle Williamson in an incredible performance). Before the bad guys catch up with him, can Danny convince Sally to escape with him, to the beach and the ocean and a life where ‘nan of these cants are abaht’?

watch the sunset

Essentially a chase film, Watch the Sunset is given further immediacy by its cinematography: shot entirely in one take, for the film's 80 or so minutes we are with Danny for every desperate second of his plight, DoP Damien Lipp’s camera floating about the action or settling in the narrow corners of Danny’s jalopy as he cruises the streets of a grey suburbia. It’s an interesting gimmick, and one which is suited to the cut and thrust of Watch the Sunset’s desperate narrative. Technically, the film is brilliant: to give you an idea of Barr’s precision, the action is timed to climax at a sunset which is framed with screen filling, tangerine accuracy in the film’s closing shots. The use of light is inspired throughout; little touches like organic lens flares from the car’s back window, and a distinct lack of shadows.

The problem is that Watch the Sunset’s screenplay is essentially that of a short film, and, to stretch it to a feature length which consolidates the one-take conceit, the camera is forced to record narrative downtime - the sort of things we would usually cut away from - in order to fulfil the running length. The opening is an extended shot of Danny’s hands on the steering wheel, and when we first meet Sally, it’s in a church midway through service and the action needlessly lingers for so long on the singing parish that you being to wonder if, somehow, you’ve accidentally flicked over to one of the darker episodes of Songs of Praise.

watch the sunset

However, like the bravura organisation of the camera, the performances are superb: Shane (Aaron Walton), the bogan brother, menaces as he kidnaps little Joey, and when the drama intensifies in the second half, the film is at its most impressive, involving carefully arranged gunfire and blood splatter. As a calling card (the cast and crew came up together), Watch the Sunset is a dazzling display of talent. Nonetheless, and however well executed the device is, like the inescapable implications of Danny’s druggy past, the narrative is at times cramped by its fealty to technical boundaries, a habit which begins by imbuing the encounter but ends up controlling the film and defining the entire experience.


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