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Last Train to Freo

dir: Jeremy Sims
[img_assist|nid=814|title=Trapped on a train with some fearsome feral bogans|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=397|height=575]
Well, this week’s a real bogan fest here at movie-reviews.com.au, because we have another Australian flick that is utterly dependant on criminal bogans as two of its main characters. Hooray!

Last Train to Freo, surprisingly enough, is about some people travelling on the last train (for that night) to Fremantle, the West Australian port city south of Perth. Two of the people on the train are clearly dangerous criminal thugs. And, as often happens on public transport, thugs can often be overcome with the delusion that they are charismatic and special, and that everyone on the train wants to hear from them.

It’s a delightful circumstance to be trapped in. It’s happened to me a few dozen times, so I assume it’s happened to you, gentle reader. These characters are at the mercy not of the private companies that now run most of the trains in Australia, but of the tyranny of distance and these two thugs.

The thugs (Steve Le Marquand and Tom Budge) clearly have no problem with jail time, with personal space or human dignity. One is tall, hideous and grandiose (Marquand), the other is a nervy and crazy junkie (Budge), but in a seemingly less dangerous way. They discuss various moronic topics on their journey before they are joined by the other passengers.

A young, beautiful woman (Gigi Edgley) gets on the train, and the thugs won’t leave her alone, of course. We knew these guys weren’t going to hide their light under a bushel. They hassle her and hassle her, and sometimes she timidly engages, other times she withdraws in fear. The threat of violence, sexual and otherwise, is ever present.

More people get on. An older lady with a suitcase (Gillian Jones), and some timid looking guy who sits far away from the action but seems to be taking notes (Glenn Hazeldine). They are all on a journey to some place they want to get to as quickly as possible to get away from the two thugs who are making their lives hell.

It’s tense, and claustrophobic throughout. Sure, it looks like a play, which is what it is based on, but it always has an overarching feeling of nervy tension that could drown these poor innocent people at any second. Even when the characters have the opportunity to escape, they cannot, and we understand that feeling of reluctance of escape after even unpleasant captivity.

This isn’t a flick you watch for the scenery, as it all transpires at night on a set that looks exactly like a train carriage, or a train carriage that looks exactly like a set. The dangerous, negative energy of the main thug permeates everything, though that’s not to say he is a complete villain. He’s no Mother Theresa, though, either.

The thing is, there is something else going on here. It’s starts off with two people terrorising three others, but something else is going on. Someone wants some answers, some closure, and the situation is going to get more serious for all concerned. And the most dangerous person isn’t necessarily the obvious one.

It’s well-acted, there’s no doubt about that. I don’t know if the story entirely works, because a few moments after having watched the film and thinking about whether I liked it or not, unbidden the thoughts started brimming: “Hang on a second, how could they have known….”, or “why was Simon writing notes” or “where can I find a bra that lifts and separates and doesn’t have a cruel underwire?” Well, maybe not the last one, but there are definitely problems with the flick. It’s a testament to how much I was caught up in it (and the skill of the filmmakers) that I didn’t think about that stuff until a few seconds afterwards. Like the mild depression that follows orgasm via masturbation. Ahhhh…..(sigh).

Marquand as the tall thug is probably a bit over the top, but when you have such an oversized personality and one which needs to be so big in order to drag other people into its orbit, it’s necessary. You need him to be brutish and charming and ignorant and sneaky and threatening at the same time.

Of course some of the other characters seem less fleshed out in comparison. Maureen gets to, out of nowhere, tell the story of her life in a monologue whilst swigging bourbon, which is great for her but seems strange in the context of the film.

When the ‘real’ story of what’s going on is revealed, it’s a bit of a struggle to comprehend how all of this could really come to pass. We think the other passengers on the train are at the mercy of the thugs. We think the reasons for who they are, and how they act is obvious. The plot even launches into a meta-analysis of both the sociological concept of why people from white trash backgrounds become irredeemable criminals, and why people from that middleclass mindset who blame everything on poverty and childhood abuse are the most helpless when confronted by these ‘real’ people.

These elements of class warfare, comrades, doesn’t really come through adequately, but at the very least that psychomalogical social worker mindset is mercilessly mocked. I always appreciate stuff where artists are mocked mercilessly by violent thugs, especially in artistic works. You know, like films.

The character of Simon, who spends most of the flick away from the action, taking notes on what the thugs do and say, is really a representation of the guy who wrote the play in the first place: Reg Crabb. If I’m not confusing him with one of the producers, Greg Duffy, then I seem to recall him saying that he’d been on a train once where two bogan thugs held court in loud and even entertaining ways in between hassling a girl in the carriage. I don’t know how well or how badly that turned out for the people concerned (I’m not implying for a second that the film mirrors an actual event, or reality for that matter), but you can almost sense the frustration, the self-loathing, the panicky desperation that could arise when you’re only a witness to these types of hideous situations.

I remember being in exactly the same basic situation many years ago: bogan guys harassing a lone girl on a country train with few passengers. You don’t want to get involved, but you don’t want the girl to get assaulted, sexually or otherwise. She is scared, but desperately hopes to humour them into leaving her alone.

Do you get involved? Do you tell them to leave her alone? Do you appeal to their tenuously-grasped sense of decency? Do you threaten them with violence? Do you wait until they actually cross some line to justify a response, or do you step in before it goes too far? Will that bring their attention upon you in a way that gets you beaten to a bloody pulp or worse? Can you enjoy drinking your meals through a straw for the next 12 weeks as your broken jaw heals, or do you live with the guilt (and legal consequences) of putting your fists or knees through the faces of one of the thugs? Does your silence indicate compliance, and complicity? Is it your fault if something happens because you could have and didn’t intercede?

If you’re lucky, a harshly intoned “Leave her the fuck alone” can, blessedly, nip it in the bud before it escalates too far, but it doesn’t always work, and certainly couldn’t have in this film’s context. So along with all these complex and neurotic questions, you can add feelings of guilt and cowardice into the mix if everything gets really fucked up. At first, the Simon character embodies this so completely that he could have just as easily been played by a mannequin upon whom the words “Feelings of Insecurity and Guilt of Weak Men in Tense Situations” were scrawled. Of course, he’s not what he appears to be, so that stuff gets abandoned after certain revelations are made.

Last Train to Freo grasps these problems and the queasy feelings they evoke. Lisa, the young woman, is not a helpless waif; she can look after herself, she nervously tells another character who tries to help her out. But can she? The main thug freely mentions his numerous stays in jail, and his last jailable offence which involved stabbing some guy so badly that he sliced him open from hip to throat. When he tells Lisa, whilst holding her arm just above the elbow, in that classic bastard man way, that she’s going to be coming with them once the train stops, you’re sensing that he means it, and that this will not end with sunshine and rainbows if it comes to pass. We have no doubt that the threat of violence hanging over everything could cease to be a threat and become actuality at any point. And when it does, after all that build up, it’s still shocking.

Sure, it falls apart completely at the end, but the lead up is strong enough for me to forgive it.

It’s not a great film; it’s not going to transform Australian cinema or get any audience overseas. And it has a lot of plot problems, and seems very stagey at some points. But it is a very well acted and made film about some strangers on a train, which really gets across the gut-churning discomfort of a believable and probably all too common situation. We are on that train with them, and it’s as tense for us as it is for them.

7 times it makes you want to drive the most fuel consumptive 4WD on the planet rather than catch public transport ever again out of 10

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“Twenty bucks says she gets off at Perth” – Last Train to Freo

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