Hugo Weaving, Last Ride at the Front of TIFF's Underdog Pack
Few countries outside the U.S.-European movie axis had quite the year Australia has had in Toronto, where the 2009 festival programmed an unprecedented 17 films from Down Under. They run the gamut from mainstream awards-season fare (The Boys are Back) to offbeat indie musicals (Bran Nue Day) to old-school revivals (the 1971 classic Wake in Fright) and ultimately to Last Ride, the sublime debut feature by director Glendyn Ivin. The film stars Hugo Weaving and 10-year-old Tom Russell as Kev and Chook, an ex-con father and his son on the run from something. They cross the Outback in stolen cars, hiding in forests and on desert ridges, mismatched yet devoted until a series of revelations rattles young Chook into second thoughts, then third thoughts, and finally action that will test the breaking point of family.
Both actors are extraordinary. Weaving (who missed the festival for work) first appears as a sort of feral animal boasting only enough judgment to clean up his look once he and Chook are on the getaway path. Kev's fathering skills are nil; he leaves his son alone in a service station to buy his own dinner, not the first time he'll strand the boy in situations of worsening peril. Chook reacts with wonder and withering hope as the nature of their journey -- particularly the implications of his father's violence -- grips him. The pair's rapport quietly deteriorates, even as Ivin and his cast seem to be working on nearly psychic levels of connection. Ride's conclusion, in which Kev realizes despite everything he's raised a good boy, is among the most heartbreaking sequences I've seen this year.
"A lot of our rehearsal time was really about Hugo and Tom hanging out, getting to know each other," Ivin told me the day after Last Ride's TIFF premiere. "Tom had never really acted before, and Hugo... I mean, he's Hugo Weaving. He's done all these films, he's an amazing actor. You really couldn't get two more opposite people together onscreen. For me it was about trying to find that balance. And when you've got an amazing character actor like Hugo onscreen, he's being matched by Tom. It was really fascinating watching that relationship form -- watching Tom watch Hugo, and watching Hugo watch Tom. He learned a lot of stuff from him."
Among Weaving's lessons were a few that he'd never likely duplicate on the set of a Matrix film, or anywhere else, for that matter. "Tom's day-to-day worries were when he could have something to eat or when he could go off and play with his Legos or that sort of thing," Ivin said. "Really basic worries that we were able to look after. It's not like he was worried about anything else in the world."
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