Jamie Skinner reviews the latest movie: Nitram
Cert – 15, Autonomy – 1 hour 52 minutes,
“Are you sick?” would-be mass shooter Martin Bryant (Caleb Landry Jones) is asked to look for his medicine. “No” he replies, “I’m just sad sometimes”. It’s a line that’s beginning to resonate throughout Nitram – the name used to taunt and bully him at school, and the one thing we rarely hear called – as the psychology of the central figure is examined in the preparation for the 1996 Port Arthur Shooting that he would commit.
Perhaps the scene where it resonates the most is between mom (a sublime scene-stealing Judy Davis) and her son quietly seated at the table as they finally begin to open up about the thoughts and emotions swirling in their respective minds. So far feelings have been tightly locked away for each character, only slightly revealed in dialogue hints – where the indication is perhaps a lack of understanding as to what Martin feels in his mind – all to go wild in this one Effective moment, tinged with hostility between the two.
Still, the fear lingers throughout the escalating tensions, mostly regarding knowing the film’s destination. In particular two extended scenes in an armory; discuss range, power, ammo, licensing, etc. is scarier than a number of recent horror films. It’s really concerning both in the movie and thinking about all-too-recent events.
Where the film really succeeds is in its understated style. It allows the factual nature to be clearly displayed, reminiscent of Gus Van Sant’s elephant – watching the figures go about their day in the hours leading up to the Columbine Massacre – it is a naturalistic work that allows the spirit of the figure central to be more exposed, and yet also more enclosed everywhere.
Even when he spends time with retried actress Helen (Essie Davis), whom he eventually moves in with, there seems to be a conflict of expression and thoughts within the character who likes to pull and push the steering wheels while someone else is driving. Among the subtle points about mental health conversations scattered throughout Shaun Grant’s screenplay, the film also asks if the eventual tragedy was still in the central character.
Nitram is certainly presented as a slow burn. This adds to the increasing levels of fear, dread and tension, especially in the third act. While that means things usually take a bit of time to settle down and fall into place once the second half hits, they manage to unfold better as we see more into Martin’s mind. and his reactions to the world around him.
It’s sure to be a tough watch for a number of potential viewers; it’s fate. But, Nitram is effective because of this; once the elements are properly established and the film delves into the thoughts and emotions of not just the central character; but to some extent those around him as well.
Jamie Skinner – Four Stars