Film Review – High Ground

High Ground (MA)

Directed by: Stephen Johnson

Starring: Simon Baker, Jacob Junior Nayinggul, Jack Thompson

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review by: Julian Wright

A chapter of Australia’s shocking and bloody history is given the Western treatment in High Ground, a brutal, unflinching and important film about the relationship between First Nations and White colonists.

In 1919 in Arnhem Land, an operation by White policemen led by former World War I sniper Travis (Simon Baker) turns into a violent massacre of an Indigenous tribe. Young survivor Gutjuk is placed in the care of a local priest (Ryan Corr) and his sister Claire (Caren Pistorius), the massacre is covered up by the authorities and Travis, who is sympathetic to Indigenous people, turns his back on his superiors.

Twelve years later, tribe descendant Baywarra (Sean Mununggur) leads a group who seek vengeance on local white settlers, so Travis is brought back by his former police chief (Jack Thomspon) to intercede. He recruits a grown-up Gutjuk (Jacob Junior Nayinggul) to help track Baywarra, putting him in the middle of both sides of a potential war.

Australian films often take advantage of the stark beauty of the outback with the harsh desert reds and thick, uncompromising bush land, but High Ground offers some little seen lush greenery in the Northern Territory, putting this as one of the most jaw dropping gorgeous local films ever made.

But do not let the postcard beauty trick you into thinking that this will gloss over some of the most violent acts that White people have inflicted upon our Indigenous population, because it does not. In fact, it shows us the violence with such clarity that it has the ability to jolt and shock – as it should.

In fact it is the juxtaposition of such beauty with such savagery that makes this film so potent.

The opening massacre is horrific in its brutality and later, in a deliberately lengthy and nerve wracking scene of negotiation between Thompson and a tribal elder, encapsulates the tension between races created by White men. These scenes are so expertly edited and timed to create unease throughout the film, even when it seems to dip into a bit of a lull at times with its pacing.

High Ground is a must see so that we never become complacent about the treatment of Indigenous people and restrictions placed on their culture. It is tough viewing, but important.

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