This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 20th July 2014
In this contemporary Australian prison drama, minimum security prisoners are offered redemption through the tending to and freeing of wounded game birds. Broken men find compassion; relationships with the outside world are restored (are you getting the metaphor?). It could be enough to make you cry.
But while it’s hard not to be cynical about the story’s transparent message, it is the astute casting of an avuncular Hugo Weaving which ought to score Healing some sort of audience. Taking under his wing the enigmatic Viktor (Don Hany) whose 16-year sentence is drawing to a close, Weaving’s patient, caring case worker provides stability in a sea of supporting players who otherwise unfortunately lend the film a bit of a TV movie sensibility.
It may be a fair call to portray stock characters in this genre given every real-life prison has its pecking order, but here the predictability and overacting just serve to undermine the story’s well-meaning heart. From simpering, weasly Shane who lacks the backbone to pick his allegiances to Warren, a chubby Tintin we’re supposed to be scared of, ultimately it’s as if writer/director Craig Monahan decided to do away with drama in lieu of slow motion shots of gigantic eagles taking flight. And there are plenty of those.
Set on a working farm, Healing does provide an interesting insight into the modern correctional facility, and this helps somewhat to situate the clichéd story in truth. Nature lovers may relish the scenes where majestic birds take centre stage. Even the Really Obvious Acting manages to keep us mostly engaged – after all, in a prison drama you never know who’s going to cross the wrong inmate and get their comeuppance.
But overall the limp narrative and leaden delivery of themes of redemption and freedom mean we know where things are headed long before the characters do, and watching it all unfold with gentle outback compassion is a bit of a yawn.