A drama that comments on the injustices in the world is walking on the edge (to use a metaphor from this show.) If it fails to tread that fine line, it can turn into a melodrama if it lands on one side or become preachy it if lands on the other. Burned Bridge tries such a feat. It doesn't succeed entirely, dipping into both melodrama and preaching at various times, but it doesn't wholly fail either.
Burned Bridge is a 13 part miniseries from Australia. It stars Kate Blanchett as Beth Ashton, a young radio producer. After going through a messy divorce, she wants some peace and quiet and a chance to sort out her life. She finds herself in the small town Brooklyn Waters in New South Wales. Her deceased grandfather, Jock, had lived there, and being his only living relative, his house and land have passed to her. Beth plans to fix up the run down house and sell it. But the house backs up to a former Aboriginal reservation, Binbilla, where a few families still live. The Binbilla residents have been using the road on Jock's property to get to town and back for years. When Beth closes the road to through traffic it creates tension.
Enter Vincent Burunga (Ernie Dingo,) an Aboriginal Police Liaison Officer, who comes from Western Australia. He is not a full fledged police officer, he can't arrest people, he's just an intermediate between the local police and the Aborigines, someone to smooth things over before they get out of hand. Vincent takes Beth to Binbilla and introduces her to the residents. When she sees the squalor they live in and the hard life that they have, she agrees to open the road.
Beth and Vincent, along with the residents of Binbilla, soon find themselves in the center of a tragedy when Beth finds a Wilga, young girl Aboriginal girl, raped and beaten. Wilga dies later that day. Her boyfriend, Ricky, who was spending the day drunk after being fired from his job, is arrested for her murder. He gives a confession while still intoxicated, and the police and town consider the case solved. But Vincent and Beth still harbor doubts, and if Ricky is innocent, that means the killer is still on the loose. Their investigation into the murder uncovers facts that many in Binbilla and the town of Brooklyn Waters wish would have stayed hidden.
Burned Bridge is a tale of outsiders. Vincent does not mesh with the local police since he is an Aboriginal, but he isn't trusted by the local Aborigines since he is from another part of the country and works for the police. It is commented on a few times that he is "walking on the edge," part of both societies, but belonging to neither. Beth is in a similar situation, not accepted by either group. The theme follows to the young aboriginals who don't want to follow the old ways of their grandparents, but have a hard time in the "white man's world."
This is where the show falls on one side of the edge. It dips into melodrama occasionally. There are times when the program gets overly sentimental, and the heart strings are pulled at in not so subtle ways. Once or twice I could forgive, but it occurs more often than that.
The series falls on the other side and gets preachy at times too. The Aboriginals are often treated unfairly and they have no recourse for justice. A prime example is when Beth finds Wilga lying in a ditch, beaten and dying after being raped. She runs into the nearby men's shower and yells for help. Two of the men in the locker room mention that they saw her there a couple of hours ago, and figured that she was just a "drunk Abo." The series often lets the viewer know that Aboriginal people are treated in this manner, and that it just isn't fair. They hammer on this theme just a little too often and the show suffers for it.
The acting in the series is very good. Kate Blanchett is splendid as Beth. It would be easy to overact in the role, but she wisely plays the character realistically. Ernie Dingo, as the Aboriginal policeman Vincent, does a very good job also. He is able to project Vincent's struggle between the world of his ancestors and the modern world very effectively.
The writing is passable, but not excellent. I never was really engrossed by the plot, and could never make myself care deeply about the characters. I was never bored, but never on the edge of my seat either. Part of the problem is that this miniseries consists of thirteen one hour episodes. With one murder mystery spread over such a long series, the plot does tend to drag in parts. There are many subplots in this show of course, and some surprising twists, but they seem to get in the way of the main story.
There is a not a lot to say about the sound track. It is in Dolby Digital 2.0, but not a lot of use was made of the sound stage. The dialog is clear and easy to understand. Nothing fantastic to recommend it, but nothing bad either.
Burned Bridge is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The lenses that they used to film the show had a very narrow depth of focus. Everything that is slightly farther or nearer to the camera than what it is focused on is a little blurry, but when things are in focus they are very detailed. It gave the show an interesting look. Not bad, but different to what I was used to.
The colors are magnificent! The lush greens of the foliage and the dark browns and reds of the dirt and ground shine through. Whenever the program starts, I'm impressed by the brilliance and brightness of the show. It is very beautiful to watch.
The down side is that they put four or five hour long shows on each disc. (Inexplicably, the first disc has five episodes AND the hour long documentary. The other two DVDs have only four shows. Why the didn't put the extra on one of the less crowded discs is beyond me.) There are a good amount of digital artifacts. Fine details frequently get lost when the camera moves, and diagonal lines have a stair step effect. There are also 'ghost' outlines in a lot of places. The first DVD shows the most problems, with the other two discs having less noticeable problems, but still present. While it does not ruin the show, I can't help but think that it would have been more enjoyable if they had put fewer shows on each DVD.
Aside from some production notes and cast profiles, there is a hour long documentary Black Australia. This is an episode from a series that utilizes Film Australia's archive vault to show Australian society. This episode focuses on the place of Aboriginals in Australia today. It is broken up into three segments. "Land & Politics" looks at tribes trying to get the land rights to their native lands. "Identity & Self Determination" explores how Aborigines adapt to western culture while trying to preserve their own cultural identity. The last segment, "Art & Spirituality" shows Aborigine expression form ancient cave paintings to present day artists. This was a mildly interesting documentary. If I was from Australia, I'm sure I would have found it more engaging.
Kate Blanchett does a good job in this series. Watching this you can tell that she is destined for bigger and better things. The series is enjoyable, but not engrossing. And while the creators tried very hard to have things balanced and realistic, the show does get preachy at times. Kate's performance makes it worth a rental at least.