It's always an iffy proposition tackling a new-to-DVD film of something that was produced a few years prior and never saw proper wide (or even small scale) release. Glendyn Ivin's 2009 "Last Ride" is thankfully one of those films that restores ones faith in "straight-to-DVD" releases and then goes on to infuriate at the notion that such a magnificent, human film could have sat unnoticed, even for a few years. Commanded by a powerful leading performance from Hugo Weaving, Ivin's film is a road movie, following Kev (Weaving) and his 10-year old son Chook (Tom Russell) on a journey through the less urbanized areas of Australia. The precipitating event for Kev and Chook's journey isn't abundantly clear at first, but Kev's surly demeanor and immediate references to his criminal and violent past make for easy reasonable guesses.
The film on its surface is absolutely beautiful, especially when the narrative takes Kev and Chook into the natural wonder of the Outback where landscapes look like the genesis of the a skilled artists imagination, but this eye candy only serves as a stark contrast against the brutality and seemingly callous nature of Kev, not to mention the immediate emotional abuse of his son. Mac Gudgeon's script never betrays Kev's nature in an attempt for viewers to make even the most base emotional connection with him, instead the screenplay and Ivin's direction keeps us quite firmly looking through the eyes of Chook who at times seems fully aware of what's going on one moment and so utterly, helplessly lost in the next moment, with no one there but an alcoholic with a quick temper.
The backbone of the film is Weaving's stunning lead performance, far removed from the roles mainstream audiences would likely recall. Kev is an intense man, quick to temper, but with an obvious set of ideals about the world that's kept him alive thus far, that he struggles to impart on a son who he loves but is alien to him at the same time. The on-screen rapport between Weaving and Russell seems to grow in conjunction with Kev and Chook's increasing time and isolation from the world. The climax of the film is remarkably tonally different from the film's first act, but the evolution is very natural and in retrospect astonishing, relying on the talents of both actors to resolve the film, through often sparse exchanges of dialogue.
The only nagging factor present throughout "Last Ride" is a sense of pacing that's just a quarter-step behind where it feels like it should be. Each of the film's major acts begins to drag, ever so slightly, just before the narrative takes a turn that gets viewers to sit in their seats and refocus. The film itself is forced into a strange catch-22 of being initially confusing in regards to Kev's motivations the first time around, but the harsh nature of the film may be too much for some viewers to revisit the film later on and view it in a new light. Frankly, for my money, Weaving and Russell's work is so strong, that a repeat viewing should be mandatory, even if some situations in the film can be downright uncomfortable. More importantly though, "Last Ride" is well worth one's time and it's a minor cinematic crime it's sat on the shelf somewhere unnoticed for a few years, at least in America.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer really shines when the majesty of the Outback is in the forefront. Colors are intense and detail is striking; the earlier portion of the film doesn't fare as well with a bit of shimmering in a few scenes and an overall too intense contrast level in dark scenes, nearly rendering a few sequences incomprehensible.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track is an understated offering with the tonal nature of the film not providing a lot of opportunities for the surrounds to get a workout, but they are used to good atmospheric effect when appropriate. The score, while ear pleasing can be overpowering at time, but otherwise it's a clean, balanced track. An English 2.0 track is included.
An audio commentary accompanies a host of other special features including two short films from director Ivin, "The Desert" and "Cracker Bag," the latter having won a Palme D'Or. Some behind-the-scenes featurettes and a brief documentary titled "Seven Emu: This is Where We Live" rounds out the disc's extras.
Often unpleasant, "Last Ride" is not a terribly easy film to stomach, but it's stark reality set against a heartbreakingly beautiful landscape coupled with a nuanced performance from Weaving and strong supporting work from Russell, push it over the edge into the compelling category. Highly Recommended.