Thursday, January 13, 2011

Today, When I Committed Treason: Tomorrow, When The War Began (2010) Review

Sometimes I feel like a traitor for not being as generous towards Australian films as a lot of Australian film critics seem to be. But I just can't bring myself to forgive a film for clichéd characters, clunky dialogue, dull action, and an incomplete story simply because the people that made it come from the same country as me. Err... mate!

In Tomorrow, When The War Began, Ellie (Caitlin Stasey) and Corrie (Rachel Hurd-Wood) are BFFs living in the small town of Wirrawee. One day, they decide to go on a camping trip to a remote secluded location with Corrie’s boyfriend (Lincoln Lewis).

In what turns out to be the first of many examples of lazy screen-writing, Ellie's parents arbitrarily stipulate that at least seven kids must go on the trip, so Ellie does a phone around enlisting a bad boy (Deniz Akdeniz), a hot girl (Phoebe Tonkin), an Asian guy (Chris Pang), and a religious nerd (Ashleigh Cummings) to accompany them. Before you ask "where's the stoner slacker kid?" don't worry, they pick him (Andy Ryan) up later in the adventure. If it were established that these kids were actually good friends, or if fate threw them together somehow, I might forgive the clichéd character types, but the setup is so lazy and unconvincing that the contrivance (of these disparate kids deciding to go camping together) becomes a particularly annoying way to establish proceedings.

After the short camping trip, filled with clunky pseudo-philosophical dialogue that I defy anyone to describe as anything other than completely unconvincing, our Whitman's sampler pack of teenage character types returns home to discover a foreign alliance has invaded the country and taken everyone they know and love prisoner. Of course, our heroes do what those American kids in 1984's Red Dawn did and decide to fight back.

If an alliance of foreign nations really did invade Australia, their motivation might very well be to stop us making films like Tomorrow, When The War Began.

I really wanted to like this film. I mean, I do appreciate that someone in this country has tried to make something other than another depressing, gritty, urban drama. Unfortunately, Tomorrow just ends up being a stark illustration of the fact that attempting to make an engrossing action/adventure film and actually succeeding are two significantly different things.

Most of the film's problems come from writer/director Stuart Beattie's screenplay. It's just littered with unconvincing situations and dialogue, that continually jar you out of the moment. Take for example a scene where the religious nerd gets permission from her strictly religious father to go on the camping trip. He clearly has serious reservations about his precious daughter fraternising with any boys, so the notion that he'd approve of her camping with the local criminal bad boy, just doesn't ring true. Also, early on, a big deal is made of Ellie borrowing her parents Landrover for the camping trip, but when hot girl vomits in it, Ellie, oddly, just laughs like it's no problem. It's almost as if Beattie continually forgets what he wrote on the previous page of his script.

The main attack that the kids plan and execute against the occupying force is also hopelessly unconvincing. We're expected to believe that an invading force that can so ruthlessly and efficiently round up so many people as POWs, and orchestrate such a well organised invasion would leave a key strategic piece of infrastructure guarded by half a dozen infantry that could be easily displaced by a herd of cows? Really? I mean, really?! Perhaps if North Korea continue to get out of hand we should just send South Korea some cattle.

Another annoyance is just how hackneyed the characters' transformations all are. They are all just as obvious as their character type. Will bad boy ultimately become good? Will the timid religious nerd come out of her shell? Will hot girl become more down-to-earth? Will Corrie’s cowardly boyfriend become more courageous? Will the stoner kid become more responsible? You know the answer to these questions as soon as you recognise the types and, sadly, that is very early on in the proceedings.

Finally, Tomorrow commits my favourite movie making sin: it has no ending. It finishes like a TV pilot with all the main "characters" established but most of their adventures obviously yet to come. Note to film's producers: TV pilots belong on TV!

All the films flaws would be more forgivable if the film was funny, or entertaining in an escapist sort of fashion. But the whole thing is fairly humourless and the action sequences, whilst impressive by Australian film standards, are pretty low rent compared to your average Hollywood action/adventure. Sorry, but, exploding ride-on lawn-mowers just don't get the blood pumping.

The film's one saving grace is the excellent cinematography. I can't deny that the film looks great, but that's just not enough to elevate Tomorrow above being a dull, predictable, b-grade genre pic. Err... fair dinkum!

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