A reformed Sydney junkie (Blanchett), needing a bank loan to make a fresh start, feels her past catching up with her as her disabled brother (Henderson) and her Vietnamese ex-boyfriend (Dustin Nguyen) plan a drug deal with the sidekick of a retiring gangster.
At a cursory glance, Rowan Woods’ second feature feels like a string of soap storylines. But such is the strength of its characterisation that it develops into an intriguing study of crushed decency, marred only by some clumsy symbolism and a shoddily melodramatic denouement.
The key to the picture is its backstory, which is so strewn with incident that the onscreen narrative could seem like something of an anti-climax. But this is very much a calm between two storms, as the characters take stock of their mistakes and shruggingly decide to make some more.
Although Noni Hazlehurst’s fiercely protective mother holds things together, Cate Blanchett dominates proceedings as the thirtysomething desperate to kickstart her life, but unable to sever her ties with the people who nearly destroyed it. Her simmering restraint is well matched by Hugo Weaving’s humiliated despair, as the one-time rugby league star willing to damage others to satisfy his craving for a fix.
But while Woods’ pacing and sense of place are without doubt exemplary, Jacqueline Perske’s screenplay is a bit too enigmatically elliptical in places, and neither Martin Henderson’s amputee nor Dustin Nguyen’s treacherous charmer feel convincingly part of an otherwise soberingly credible world.
Strong performances and meticulous direction make this consistently disconcerting, but the subplot distracts from the moving human drama.