RISE. Starring Nathan Wilson, Martin Sacks, Marty Rhone, Mack Lyndon. Directed by the Mack Lyndon. 104 minutes. Rated MA (Mature themes, violence and coarse language).
The title Rise does not give anything away. It is only halfway through the film when there is a background song is introduced, Rise, a song whose lyrics have a spiritual dimension, indicating that no matter how down people are in life, there is or is the possibility that they can rise.
Rise is an Australian small-budget film based on a true story, a story experienced by the writer-director, Mack Lyndon, himself in 2008. He has created an uncomfortable story out of his experience, an accusation of rape, his being found guilty in his trial and his going to prison. Any story about rape makes for uncomfortable viewing. The difference with this film is that it is all seen from the point of view of the accused, nothing from the point of view of his accuser, a fight for innocence in the an appeal to the courts. Because courts have been far less sympathetic towards victims of rape in the past and there is a ground swell of sympathy for injustice for accusers, and newspaper headlines frequently offer stories of accused who are either found not guilty or receive a penalty which advocates for women who have experienced rape think far too lenient. (One of these comes to visit the accused in jail, talking of an appeal to the courts for him to receive a stronger sentence.)
That having been said, the film is very much a prison film, in the tradition of those films, but, on the whole, it is a far less melodramatic picture of prison life than usual. Not that there are not some bizarre characters, responsible for violent crimes, and some guards who are certainly anti-prisoners.
During the first ten minutes or so of the film, we see Will as a little boy, impressed by a sign on a bus that urges everyone to be kind. He grows up to be a nurse, a caring professional, who has a night out on the town, clubbing, meeting up with a girl, going back after drinking and having what he considered a consensual sexual experience. He is very much surprised when the police arrive at his house, interrogate him, cuff him, charge him.
Nathan Wilson, in his first role, proves to be a sympathetic Will. He suffers the usual indignities of going into prison, being assigned a cell, rubbing up against tattooed toughs, advised not to tell fellow prisoners why he is in jail for fear of reprisals. While he has some difficult times, even with a visit from his rather hysterical mother, he adjusts to prison life, makes friends, especially a disabled life-prisoner (Marty Rhône) and is assigned to care for, and an old veteran, 26 years in jail for armed robberies, who takes Will under his wing and has something of a conversion experience himself. There is his cell-mate, Baxter, played by the directo, Mack Lyndon himself.
But then, the film moves to a religious dimension, one of the prisoners, George, being devout, giving Will a religious book, engaging in conversations, going to the services provided by the prison chaplain. Will himself becomes a man of faith – always in a somewhat low-key Australian style – but becomes more confident, prays, has faith that his friend, who has enlisted the help of a high-powered barrister, will be able to get his conviction overturned.
When the film becomes more overtly religious, and with the title song, Rise, it seems to be in the vein of a number of films from the United States, made by Christian groups, backed by Christian churches, especially those made by the Kendrick Brothers, Courageous, Fireproof. (The final credit of this film name Elevation Church – which has its own websight.) Because the religious element is generally low-key, secular Australian audiences might be able to accept it more readily than they do the American versions.
In most ways and technically, the film is very straightforward. Nathan Wilson pleasantly convincing as Will – and, when he smiles, he could pass for a younger version of Matt Damon. Veteran, Martin Sacks, is the old prisoner who befriends Will and is influenced by him for the good.
Which means that the film is very earnest in its way, making the case for justice for a man accused of rape affirming that he was innocent. There is a final moment when Will and the woman who accused him walk past each other and look at each other, with Will having made effort to be forgiving.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Released November 13th 2014.