November 10th, 2007 Film, Film Reviews, Personalities, Xpress

Something you almost never hear in Australia is that government funding in cinema is a good thing. Most filmmakers (and a lot of audiences) find it a necessary evil but far from the ideal where films are market driven products made by a commercially self-sufficient production/studio system. In fact, just the sort of movie Rogue is.

It’s an Australian film where the talent is all local and the money American, writer/director Greg McLean given a $30m cheque and an open brief by Hollywood heavyweights The Weinstein brothers after his tour de force Wolf Creek.

A cynic could view the casting of Michael Vartan (an American) as the hero as an attempt to capitalise on the American market, but that’s Rogue’s unapologetic point — broad and commercial American studio-style escapism.

So it’s ironic to hear the film’s Australian star Radha Mitchell extolling the virtues of our heavily-subsidised movie industry. When Xpress asks her if Rogue was an excuse to work at home again after so many American movies, she mentions our unique cinematic voice.

“I’m happy to work everywhere,” she says, “It’s nice just to be here and if working here is one excuse to be here then I will. I’m really interested in the sort of movies that are made here but are funded by the government outside the concept of the industry because they can be driven more by the idea of art.”

High art’s at the opposite end of the scale from Rogue’s good-time, 1950s matinee style, and Mitchell fits into it as salt-of-the-earth top end tour guide Kate. She actually sounds a little Crocodile Dundee-cartoonish and over the top (another nudge-and-wink for the yanks?), but it’s surprising to learn a simple Australian accent was difficult for this Melbourne girl.

“It was a challenge in some ways because I’ve been living overseas and my accent swings,” she says. “I had to coach myself with a dialogue coach to keep it within the parameters of the accent.”

As Kate, Mitchell is the river-going guide who takes a group of travellers upriver in the beautiful and terrible top end and unwittingly lands them in hot water when they stumble into the territory of a huge croc, the rogue of the title.

Attacked by the croc and with their boat leaking, the company makes for the small island in the middle of a lagoon. After hearing Kate’s tour monologue — which doubles as the exposition we need to know about crocodiles — we know that’s bad news.

With the tide creeping in and their only sanctuary disappearing under their feet, the who’ll-be-next guessing game ensues as the increasingly unhinged group try to formulate an escape while they’re hunted down one at a time in classic horror film fashion…

Some people will be surprised McLean’s gone so ’50s monster movie’ after the visceral impact of Wolf Creek. After his debut, some will be disappointed. But Rogue delivers no more or less than it promises, and it does so the way those 50s irradiated-beasts directors wish they could have done so realistically had CGI and good animatronic puppetry been around.

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