Maybe it’s something to do with our convict history but there’s a significant prison culture genre in Australian cinema, and I think we do it pretty well. The latest example is Cut Snake, a post-prison story about how hard it is – or was back in the 70s – to go straight after doing the crime then the time. Although come to think of it it’s probably harder now that there’s so little blue-collar employment available and the scourge of ice is everywhere. I hadn’t heard of any of the main actors and assumed they were all newcomers until I looked up the movie online and found that Sullivan Stapleton, who plays Pommie, played a similar character in Animal Kingdom. Pommie’s the career criminal ex-con just out of the joint who goes in search of his old cellmate Sparra (Alex Russell) to draw him back into a life of crime, never mind that Sparra has got his life back together with a job, a nice girlfriend (Jessica de Gouw) and plans for a respectable future. Not since Eric Bana played Chopper Read has there been such a brilliantly powerful evocation of this kind of character: in Pommie there’s the same weirdly charismatic combination of brute physical strength and psychological fragility, the same sense of repressed rage that could at any moment explode into terrifying violence, which it does.
The violence in this film is quite confronting. If you don’t want any kind of hint as to plot development, read no further. I just found it illuminating, after having watched the film, to hear director Tony Ayres talking (on Radio National to Jason di Rosso) about ‘the homoeroticism of violence’, which turns out to be a central theme in the story.
Incidentally, for those unfamiliar with Australian slang, the expression ‘mad as a cut snake’ suggests someone or something insanely out of control.
I first published this review to Facebook on 25.9.15