Review: Tomorrow When The War Began

The stars of  Tomorrow When The War Began  prepare for action.
The stars of Tomorrow When The War Began prepare for action.

(M) ***

Director: Stuart Beattie.

Cast: Caitlin Stasey, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Lincoln Lewis, Deniz Akdeniz, Phoebe Tonkin, Chris Pang, Ashleigh Cummings.

HOW long has it been since you've seen an Australian action movie?

Aussie film-makers tend to make dramas and comedies (or the occasional "dramedy") and genre pieces are rare. Wolf Creek, Undead, Beneath Hill 60 and The Proposition come to mind in the horror, sci-fi, war and western genres but you would have to go back to the Mad Max trilogy to find a serious actioner.

That's part of what makes Tomorrow When The War Began so refreshing. This has the look of a blockbuster budget and its shoot-outs, car chases and explosions are handled as deftly as any you see in a Hollywood production, which begs the question "why don't we do more movies like this?".

Based on John Marsden's much-loved teen novel, it follows a group of teens who go camping in a remote area during a fateful weekend when Australia is invaded.

Upon returning to their fictional hometown of Wirrawee, they discover it over-run by foreign troops, with most of the town's residents either detained or dead, leaving the teenagers wondering what to do next in a sudden life-or-death situation.

Aussie writer/director Stuart Beattie comes with some big Hollywood credentials having worked on the scripts of Collateral and the first Pirates Of The Caribbean movie and provides an assured hand behind the camera despite it being his first film.

Perhaps surprisingly, given his track record as a screenwriter, it's the script that is less assured, suffering from some cringe-worthy bleeding obvious moments and my personal pet peeve, the unneccessary narrator.

His cast - which comprises stars of homegrown TV shows such as Neighbours, Home & Away and H20 as well as a few newcomers - does a fairly good job of holding it all together, particularly Caitlin Stasey (who is in almost every scene) and the more experienced Rachel Hurd-Wood (who has starred in Peter Pan, Perfume and Dorian Gray).

In fact, the cast is another of the refreshing aspects of this film. There are no Bill Hunters, Jack Thompsons, Bryan Browns or any others of those Aussie movie must-have actors - the only well-known face to pop up is Colin Friels, who's in there for a couple of minutes.

As a whole, TWTWB works brilliantly. Its well-executed action sequences are well balanced by good themes about morality in wartime and loss of innocence (there's even a passing reference to the white invasion of Aboriginal Australia), plus the seriousness of its situation is tempered by some neat humour (including a clever crack about how movies adapted from books are never as good as their source).

When you look more closely, the cracks start to appear in this actioner, but hopefully this is a resounding success at the box office, if only to pave the way for more ambitious Aussie productions like this.