Black and White

Robert Carlyle, David Ngoombujarra, Charles Dance, Kerry Fox, Colin Friels, Ben Mendelsohn.
Running Time: 99 mins
Rated: M
In the late 1950s Max Stuart (Ngoombujarra), an itinerant Aboriginal man, is accused of raping and murdering a young girl in rural South Australia. David O'Sullivan (Carlyle), a down on his luck Adelaide lawyer, is sent to Ceduna to defend him. Against the advice of his partner Helen Devaney (Fox), O'Sullivan invests himself in the case and through the intervention of a local Catholic priest (Friels) he starts to notice glaring discrepancies in the coroner's report and police procedures, and cultural inconsistencies. Nonetheless, Stuart is committed to stand trial and is prosecuted by Roderic Chamberlain (Dance). The longer the trial goes on the more convinced O'Sullivan is that Stuart is innocent and should not hang for the crime.

A young Rupert Murdoch (Mendelsohn), proprietor of the revamped The News, enters the fray. While O'Sullivan goes to the Privy Council at London, Murdoch takes up the case in the court of public opinion.
It's tough writing a legal drama. Louis Nowra's script falls into the trap of being overly preachy and director Craig Lahiff is hard pressed to get some drama into several court room scenes. Geoffrey Simpson's pictures are terrific, but the action seems to lag at several spots. Overall, however, the performances are moving with O'Sullivan, Chamberlain and Fr Nolan being characterised as more than storybook cut-outs.

This tragic story changed legal history in Australia. It is not a David and Goliath story. It's more real than that, but it is a timely reminder of the way we were just a generation ago.

Black and White is the last in string of recent films which focus on injustices done to black Australians. This year alone we have had Rabbit Proof Fence, The Tracker, Beneath the Clouds and Australian Rules. It is beyond imagining that white Australians could see any or all of these films and not understand that we have something to be sorry about in regard to our indigenous brothers and sisters. It does not require a lot of grey matter to understand the implications of the stories now being brought into the light.

Richard Leonard SJ

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