Reviews

Matthew Newton

Australia, 2009

Credits

Review by Leo Goldsmith

Posted on 24 March 2009

Source DVD screener

Categories The 2009 South by Southwest Film Festival

There’s far less singing and dancing in Matthew Newton’s Three Blind Mice, but it shares many obvious traits with Robbins and Bernstein’s On the Town. For one, both films follow three complementary archetypes of sailors on shore-leave: there’s Harry, the “ship comedian”; Dean, the uptight protocol-wonk and devoted fiancé; and Sam, the sensitive mama’s boy. After rigorous training and much time at sea, the trio is as hungry for entertainment and trouble as Kelly, Sinatra, and Jules Munshin were—and they certainly find both in equal measures. But the lack of song and dance notwithstanding, the fact that this is not 1940’s New York, New York, but War on Terror-era Sydney, Australia, is another major difference between the classic musical and Newton’s film, one that marks the divide the innocence and frivolity of the former and the world-weariness of the latter.

For one, the characters’ ambivalence to military service is apparent from the beginning: an aside between Dean and Harry reveals that Sam’s furtiveness is partly a product of brutal hazing on the part of their superior, Glenn. Ashore for one night before being shipped off to the Middle East, each of the three sailors has his own agenda. Harry plots an evening of drinking and whoring, Dean coordinates a quiet drink and dinner for the group with his fiancée’s family, and Sam makes plans for deserting the Navy entirely, as he reveals in a discreet phone-call to his mum. Naturally, all these plans go somewhat awry: Sam meets the beautiful Emma, who seems to have the balls he supposedly lacks; Dean’s in-law meeting turns into a drunken, brawling, groping confessional; and the sailors find themselves variously pursued by hysterical mothers, Italian-Aussie hotheads, and surly pimps.

And while all this salty sailor revelry, complete with broken noses and concussions, sounds like one’s average Rat Pack melée, Newton – who writes, directs, and plays the role of Harry – deftly weaves in a great deal of insight into the nature of masculine friendship and the military mindset. Throughout, the characters convene and separate, bicker with one another then pal around sloppily, alternately competitive, sympathetic, sarcastic, lewd, or at each other’s throats. And while this kind of camaraderie is quite common in buddy films (or bromances, if you insist), it rarely implies so much about war, torture, and the pros and cons of homosociality. Three Blind Mice is low-key and almost deceptively fun, but it’s also subtly sharp and very tightly performed, the rare ensemble film with hardly a flat note and with an effective, even balance of the hysterical, the sentimental, and the brutish.

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