By Simon Miraudo
May 5, 2014
If you’ve been waiting for a movie to come along equating the plight of the prisoner with that of a caged bird or injured animal… then you just haven’t been paying attention. Craig Monahan‘s Healing is only the latest to play that gambit, following in the footsteps of Birdman of Alcatraz, The Shawshank Redemption, and, in a way, Chicken Run. This one sees a bunch of inmates at a minimum security prison rehabilitating wounded eagles and owls before eventually releasing them back into the wild. It’s a lumbering metaphor, largely excused by fine central performances (though there aren’t necessarily enough to forgive the overly-earnest closing sequences of those damn birds finally taking flight).
Don Hany stars as Viktor Khadem, a disgraced Iranian at the tail-end of a twenty-year sentence for murder. Case worker Matt Perry (Hugo Weaving) takes a shine to the imposing inmate, going out on a limb to recommend him as warden of their prison camp’s new bird sanctuary. Viktor, in turn, recruits roommates Paul (Xavier Samuel) and Shane (Mark Leonard Winter), mostly so he can keep an eye on them and stem the drug trade operating out of their dorm. Together, the men find a new way of coping with their challenging surroundings, and, along with Matt – who’s mourning the death of his young daughter – take solace in the rejuvenation of their pets, experiencing some healing of their own. Hey, that’s the title of the movie!
The script – by Alison Nisselle and Monahan – suffers from clunky exposition, delivered clunkily by familiar faces of the Australian television industry. It’s also somewhat undone by its shapelessness, which might work as a method of making us feel the prisoners’ long hauls, but doesn’t excuse a couple of narrative leaps or fizzled-out subplots. Eventually, however, as the feature settles into a groove and Hany’s accent grows more intelligible, Healing manages to capture some genuine moments of human frailty. Jane Menelaus is particularly good as a prickly zoologist, while Mark Leonard Winter takes the biggest risks with his disquieting turn, balancing uneasily between affected mental illness and uncomfortable comic relief. Whether it’ll work for everyone is yet to be seen. This, at least, is undeniable: the dude is making choices.
It’s Weaving, though – so effortlessly compelling and uncommonly tender – that makes Healing worth watching at all. In The Turning, he gave one of 2013’s best performances with just ten minutes of screen time. Here, with ten times that amount to tinker with, he doesn’t waste a second.
Healing arrives in Australian cinemas May 8, 2014.