Battling barrister overcomes odds
Stephen A. Haines | Ottawa, Ontario Canada | 03/24/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Robert Carlyle, in a most unexpected role, is a lawyer in South Australia in the 1950's. After a child is found murdered, the populace is quick to focus on an itinerant Aborigine, Max Stuart. Max is an outsider, and even the local Aborigines don't stand up for him. Carlyle, assigned his defence by the Law Society is quickly convinced Max has been framed. That any proceedings will be stacked against a Black is a given, something made clear when a local pathologist shifts information to invalidate Max's alibi [the film doesn't make clear that at this time, Aborigines had little legal standing in their homeland. "Citizenship" remained vaguely defined for years to come]. The question of police abuse of the culprit is also raised and the story shifts from an isolated crime to race relations. In this relation of an actual event, neither the small seaside community of Ceduna, nor the State capital Adelaide, come out looking well.
The story is of less significance than how the characters are developed. From a starting point of Carlyle's attempt to render a forced confession invalid, there remains doubt over his guilt right to the end. It's O'Sullivan's quest for justice against a system of obstructions that underlies the story. His task is rendered more difficult by the prosecution's ambition to become a High Court justice. Roderic Chamberlain [Charles Dance], is a cold, aloof and opinionated man. Carlyle carries this role effortlessly, frustrated by the evasions of the witnesses and the enmity of the community. O'Sullivan, for all his idealism, isn't a smooth, calculating man, who hasn't the experience to cover all the bases that might have supported his case. His own assistant counsel has taken to the bottle and his frustrations are conveyed with Carlyle's usual aplomb. Kerry Fox as Helen Devaney, has reason to numb her sense. She reminds Carlyle of what it's like to be the sole woman in a law school of ambitions males.
As a candidate for the Chief Justice, Chamberlain is deeply involved in State politics. Thomas Playford, Premier of South Australia, has already been in office 21 years when the Stuart case occurres. That tenure came under challenge by a young newspaper publisher, Rupert Murdock [Ben Mendolsohn]. Murdoch takes up O'Sullivan's cause, fomenting protests against the death penalty and rousing the public to protests. Playford, disturbed at the turn of events, declares to Chamberlain that "Politics has nothing to do with justice." O'Sullivan, who has taken the case all the way to Britain's highest appeal court, to no avail, continues to battle on and Playford is forced to convene a Royal Commission. The film thus becomes a series of courtroom sessions, with Carlyle's frustrations wonderfully portrayed. The film isn't fast-paced, but the intensity of those involved is admirably conveyed.
This isn't the usual Australian fare with sweeping vistas of the Outback or the ramparts of the Snowy Mountains. Instead, this is a film about people, with intimate close-ups of the actors. Carlyle doesn't smile much in his films, and in this one he has little cause to. Dance nearly outstrips the other performances in a monologue about "what really happened" on that Ceduna beach. He's powerfully convincing, even when his argument is fundamentally flawed. With such commanding performances representing actual, even still-living people, this film chains the attention from beginning to end. A film well worth your time and attention for both the characters and the issues so starkly presented. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]"
Louis Nowra can do no wrong!
Vera | Poland | 03/04/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Louis Nowra, one of Australia's greatest playwrights, wrote the screenplay that made this film what it is, namely, a landmark Australian film!
"Black and White" is a compelling story based on a 1959 trial that irrevocably changed police procedure and judicial authority in South Australia.
It is Christmas 1958 in conservative Adelaide, a city that prides itself on its peaceful, well-bred qualities. An excitable young lawyer, David O'Sullivan, is given the news that he has drawn a 'bad lottery prize'- a legal aid case. He must defend a young Aboriginal man Max Stuart who has been arrested for the rape and murder of a nine year old girl in the far west desert town of Ceduna. O'Sullivan soon concludes that the aborigine has been framed by the local police and decides he must take a stand. He finds himself pitted against Chamberlain, South Australia's Crown Prosecutor, a forbidding but tremendously charismatic character. O'Sullivan and his legal partner, Helen Devaney, embark on a 'David and Goliath' battle that threatens the world of closed ranks, hidden evidence and the establishment.
"Black and White" is a wonderfully compelling story of right and wrong! I loved it!"
"I Sit And Wait For Justice To Be Done" ~ Finding The Gray
Brian E. Erland | Brea, CA - USA | 07/18/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"'Black and White' released in '01 continues the streak of absolutely fabulous films coming out of Australia. Director Craig Lahiff's delivers a riveting murder mystery based on a true story circa '58. Max Stuart (David Nqoombujarra), a transient aboriginal male working for a traveling carnival is arrested, beaten and charged with the brutal rape and murder of a little nine year old white girl.
The murder case falls into the lap of a struggling young lawyer named David O'Sullivan (Robert Carlyle). As the evidence in the case is gathered and examined by the novice attorney it doesn't take long for him to discover the difference between white man's justice and its prejucicial application to the black man.
Great performances by Robert Carlyle, David Nqoombujarra and Charles Dance as Roderic Chamberlain, the prosecuting attorney.