Running Time: 106 mins
Rated: Rated M
Tom White (Friels) goes off to work one day as usual. He seems stressed, and he is. When he's told to take some time off, the cracks in the world as he knows it break wide-open and he finds himself somewhere else. The other world he discovers is one where life is risky and on the margins; nothing is assured. He is taken in by Matt (Dan Spielman) a male prostitute who is bemused by the concept of an older man who has 'run away from home'. Life starts to run in a completely different rhythm. When he has to move on he begins, almost unwillingly, a relationship with Christine a lonely ex-junkie who is was trying to escape her boyfriend/pimp. Tom's next encounter is with Malcolm (Hunter), an 'elder statesman' of the streets who inducts him into the world of the homeless. Can or will Tom ever return home? And how do his wife (Blake) and two children cope with all this?
In 1989 the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission published "Our Homeless Children, the Report of the National Inquiry into Homeless Children.' It became better known as the Burdekin Report, in honour of its chair, Brian Burdekin. One of the more shocking finding of that report, in the midst of many such findings, was that over 70
of all homeless people in Australia suffered from mental illness. In large measure this was from the wholesale closure of many mental health facilities. But it was also shown that people went onto the street because of mid-life mental health crisises. This is the world Tom White explores.
What is most frightening about Tom's world is that it starts out so normally. He is a suburban husband and father who suffers a mid-life mental collapse with disastrous consequences for everyone.
Tom White is a gritty Australian drama. The language and sexual references in the film will disturb some viewers. But it's Colin Friels finest moment on the big screen, and director Alkinos Tsilimidos' best work to date.
Composer Paul Kelly opens and closes the film with an adaptation of the 23rd Psalm. At the start it alerts filmgoers, that we about to walk through the darkest valley, where through the most unlikely of people be Tom's comfort. And maybe its reprise at the end tells us goodness and mercy will has the last word even in the shadow of death.
Tom White is a tough, but moving cinematic experience.
Fr Richard Leonard SJ is the director of the Australian Catholic Film Office.