Craig Monahan is best known for writing and directing his 1998
debut feature THE INTERVIEW, a tough, tense psychological thriller that barely
leaves the confines of an interrogation room. HEALING switches genres and moves
outdoors more or less, but Monahan is still dealing with trapped men.
Viktor Khadem (Don Hany), an Iranian immigrant living in Australia, is near the end of his long prison sentence. Transferred to low security for recent good behavior but bringing with him a reputation for violence, Viktor is placed under the supervision of progressive prison officer Matt Perry (Hugo Weaving), who places the hot tempered introvert at the centre of a programme caring for wounded birds of prey. Try as he might to avoid it, Viktor must also navigate prison politics involving new youngster Paul (Xavier Samuel), prison big shot Warren (Anthony Hayes), and his ‘dog’ Shane (Mark Leonard Winter).
The metaphor for rehabilitation may be an obvious and simple one, but it serves the story amply, and these moments are HEALING’s greatest strength. The birds are naturally magnificent - especially when they're photographed this lovingly, and their time on screen also allow the human actors their strongest scenes. It’s a shame there aren’t a lot more of them, as the rest of Monahan and co-writer Alison Nisselle’s screenplay is a simplistic and clumsy doling out of prison movie clichés. Weaving is once again fine, bringing whatever subtlety and nuance he can, but Hany struggles to make much of an impression with his stoic leading role when he's given so little, and nearly everyone else (even the brilliant Tony Martin as Perry’s gruff, no-nonsense co-worker) can only try their best with characters sketched from the broadest of brush-strokes. Hayes, normally so strong, gets shortest shrift, coming off about as menacing as a private school bully; only Winter’s Shane has any kind of interesting shading or fresh spin on these familiar tropes.
On one hand it’s hard to get your head around the fact that Monahan and Nisselle spent the best part of a decade getting this story to the screen; on the other, it’s pretty easy to guess why – it probably took a long time to convince financiers a screenplay this underwritten (it feels like a first or second draft), this pat, this ear-bashingly clunky in its exposition could be shaped and finessed to its full potential. As it stands, for the most part this didn't happen. More's the pity, it comes from a filmmaker we know is capable of much more.
HEALING is released May 8 in Australia.