Director: Shawn Seet
Screenwriter: Justin Monjo, based on the eponymous novel by Colin Thiele.
Runtime: 99 mins.
Australian release date: 17 January 2019
Previewed at: Hoyts Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park, Sydney, on 12 January 2019.
The original film of Colin Thiele’s classic 1964 novel Storm Boy, directed by Henri Safran, was released in 1976 and became a critical and box office success, winning the award for Best Film at the 1977 AFI (now AACTA) Awards. It’s a widely-known story, having been studied in Australian schools for many years, so it was a brave decision by producers Matthew Street and Michael Boughen to take on a remake of the much-loved tale. To update it for modern viewers, the current version, directed by Shawn Seet, begins in the present day and the events are recollected through the eyes of the now much older ‘Storm Boy’, Michael Kingley (Geoffrey Rush).
The old man is in Adelaide for an important vote on the future of King Pastoral Holdings, the company he founded in the Pilbara, but the meeting is delayed by a wild storm and he spends the night at the palatial home of his son-in-law, Malcolm Downer (Erik Thompson), now CEO of the family business. While there, he bonds with his grand-daughter, Maddy (Morgana Davies), who is passionate about the environment and is fighting her father over the inevitable damage to the land if the decision is made to allow mining on their properties. Michael, too, had fallen out with his father when a young lad, so during the night and following day, he recounts what happened to him all those years ago in the late 1950s when he lived on the 90-Mile Beach in a cabin with his dad, ‘Hideaway’ Tom (Jai Courtney), surrounded by sand dunes and lagoons in the Coorong National Park, near the mouth of the Murray River, cut off from the rest of the world and perfectly in tune with nature.
When the young ‘Storm Boy’ (Finn Little) meets an Indigenous man estranged from his tribe, ‘Fingerbone’ Bill (Trevor Jamieson), they establish a friendship based on their shared love of nature, particularly when the boy rescues three orphaned pelican chicks after their mother was slaughtered by local hunters. He gives the trio names, Mr. Ponder, Mr. Proud and Mr. Percival, and when they are old enough, ‘Storm Boy’ is encouraged by his father to release the birds back into the wild. One, however, returns. It’s Mr. Percival, the most vulnerable of the three and the one with whom the boy had established a real bond, a friendship. Naturally though, it cannot last and Michael must leave the bird and his home to attend school, a harrowing experience that has a profound effect on his life and his relationship with his father. As he reminisces to Maddy, the old man remembers the important lessons he learnt as a boy.
Storm Boy is a well-made re-telling of this Australian classic and the beautifully shot Coorong locations provide a stunning backdrop to a story that manages to be both heart-breaking and uplifting. The many scenes with the pelicans are extraordinary and young Finn Little seems to connect with them totally. Five birds were involved in the shoot and there’s very little CGI, so bird trainer Paul Mander should take a bow; he’s done great work. Jai Courtney does an exemplary job with his character, a reticent man who has cut himself off from society but who remains open to the needs of his son. Rush, though, doesn’t seem to go past being poignant and reflective, and his rheumy-eyed old man is a bit one-dimensional as a result. Jamieson reveals the indigenous connection to country with feeling and authenticity; he breathes life into a tender and informative role that makes a marked impression on the young boy - in real life, too. Apparently, he and Little formed a true friendship during filming, and you can see it on the screen. One criticism is with portions of Justin Monjo’s script; despite the events and emotions on display, it doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts and lacks spark at times. Alan John’s music can be a little turgid, too. Nevertheless, Storm Boy is a worthwhile family film for its young actors, its setting, its environmental message and, of course, its majestic pelicans.