It might not be overstating it to suggest that Simon Baker has marked his directorial debut with an Australian classic. Having not read the Tim Winton novel on which it is based (Cloudstreet was enough for me), I can’t comment on its faithfulness to the book, but Baker’s film, robust and tender, is a reminder that cinema can aspire to great art without restricting itself to the fashions of ‘art house’. Pikelet and Loonie (Samson Coulter and Ben Spence) are free-range kids growing up in small-town Western Australia. Shaped by their environment, they take to the surf. Riding their bikes to the beach one day, they encounter the reclusive former champion boardrider Sando (Baker). As Sando is at least twice their age and shacked up with Eva (Elizabeth Debicki), it could have been too much of a stretch to believe that he would be prepared to devote so much of his time to the boys. But he needs to be a guru to his acolytes as much as they are ripe for the lessons that he will impart to them. The other significant character in the drama is the ocean itself – and how beautifully shot it is by cameraman Rick Rifici. Narrated by Pikelet the man in an elegiac voice (not unlike Gordie’s in Stand By Me), it is a coming-of-age story that digs deep into the male psyche, and heart. Pikelet (again, like Gordie) is sensitive and uncertain, not timid but also not prepared to indulge in the reckless bravado of his mate (and we have all knocked around with the appropriately named Loonie at some point). The young actors are fantastic, as is Baker who plays it down in order to let them take centre stage. Eva is less clearly defined, but as the love-interest she is suitably ethereal and unknowable. Complemented by Harry Gregson-Williams’s beautiful score, the period is perfectly captured (Pikelet asks his parents ‘can I please leave the table’ after he’s eaten his tea), as is the wonder and heavy portent of teenage years. Outstanding.
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