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Prime Mover Prime Mover
DAVID CAESAR, AS GUEST JUDGE ON ABC’S RACE AROUND THE WORLD (1997/98), USED TO LOVE GETTING STUCK INTO CONTESTANTS WITH HIS ACID WIT. HIS ONSCREEN CONFRONTATIONS WITH JOHN SAFRAN (NOW TORTURING HIMSELF AND US—IN A GOOD WAY—WITH RACE RELATIONS) IN PARTICULAR WERE FUN TO WATCH. BUT IT’S LIKE HE WAS ASKING FOR IT. YOU WATCH HIS FILMS WITH THE SAME CRITICAL EYE.

Prime Mover begins as a fable... “Once upon a time in Dubbo.” From there it moves into tragedy (a father dies), romantic comedy (boy meets girl, marriage, music, babies), magical realism (his fantasies start to come alive), a road movie (he buys a truck to cruise the highways), a small-time crime thriller (he borrows money from the wrong people), an addiction tale (he gets hooked on drugs to stay awake), a horror film (chased in his truck, his face gets smashed into an ugly pulp), a revenge story (he crashes his truck into the crim’s house), a social realist plot (his wife is torn apart by postnatal depression) and, of course, there’s the tale of redemption (all is forgiven because he did everything to achieve his dreams). The problem is, I was quite happy hanging back there with the romantic comedy.

While Idiot Box and Mullet were gritty depictions of characters skirting the edges of society, Caesar’s more recent Dirty Deeds had similar narrative problems to this latest offering—a great beginning leading to a strange and too-long melange where too much is never enough; Caesar doesn’t appear to know when to stop. It’s a shame because he writes and directs romance and comedy brilliantly but doesn’t seem confident enough to stick with them. From the start Thomas (Michael Dorman) and his “warrior queen of the bowsers” Melissa (Emily Barclay) are inspired characters, bouncing off each other with gentle innuendo, their dialogue a nice mix of the rough and smooth, seductive and fun. When they make love for the first time, he gets her to hold a dirty big wrench. And I settled in for a quirky, offhand romance where the happily ever after happens at the beginning rather than the end.

But when plot quickly overtakes characterisation, the film loses its charm (although Prime Mover could join the ranks of Ozploitation flicks, highlighted in the documentary Not Quite Hollywood; Tarantino would love the truck chases.) Thomas, witness to his father’s grisly death (for which he feels responsible), is a talented ‘pinstriper’ [creator of custom designs on automobiles, Ed], with shiny dreams of his own big rig. He doesn’t seem to realise that driving it will take him away from his lover and new daughter, now abandoned in an isolated caravan in a dusty world where even the pool is concreted over and behind barbed wire. Although she is desperate for his help with a screaming baby who never stops—even admitting she’s scared she’s going to kill her daughter—he sets off once again into the night, and seems surprised when he returns to find her gone. It’s a familiar tale but the dramatic interest seems to lie in what’s happening offscreen with Melissa (Barclay being one of the best young actresses around) rather than the convolutions of bad-boy Ben Mendelsohn and his dumb lackeys.

Prime Mover Prime Mover
photo Mark Rogers
The magical realist elements are an intriguing addition and work well, inspired by Thomas’ swirling designs. His delusions become grander as he stays awake for long stretches, the drugs reaching in to take him down. His father’s likeness becomes Saint Christopher, the patron saint of truckers, whispering good will and sense into one ear; Melissa materialises as a naughty calendar girl brought to life (there’s that wrench again), encouraging him to turn to the dark side.

Caesar has a romantic vision of the little Aussie battler doing anything to realise his dreams—as in Kenny, The Castle and Crocodile Dundee. And he believes in sustained love too. In Prime Mover it seems early on that Caesar is going to turn a genre on its head, exploring the nature of romance and dreams where a couple hits the road gypsy-style. But he has the dark angel sitting on his other shoulder, encouraging him to go big, appeal to all markets; opt for car crashes, drugs, money, mindless violence. David Caesar has great insight into the joys and challenges of modern relationships; I wish he would just stick with them.


Prime Mover, director, writer David Caesar, producer Vincent Sheehan, performers Michael Dorman, Emily Barclay, Ben Mendelsohn, Gyton Grantley, William McInnes, Anthony Hayes, Lynette Curran, Jeanette Cronin. cinematographer Hugh Miller, editor Mark Perry, production design Nell Hanson, original music Paul Healy

RealTime issue #94 Dec-Jan 2009 pg. 27

© Kirsten Krauth; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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