“STORM BOY” — 2½ stars — Jai Courtney, Geoffrey Rush, Morgana Davies, Finn Little, David Gulpilil, Trevor Jamieson, Erik Thomson; PG (for some thematic elements, mild peril and brief language); in general release; running time: 98 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Birds, hunters, an adorable kid, Geoffrey Rush and stunning Aussie coast scenery come together in “Storm Boy,” a tender, albeit at times heavy-handed tale based on a celebrated Australian children's book.
The film, directed by Shawn Seet ("Two Fists, One Heart"), opens as a successful Australian businessman is wrestling to decide whether to move forward with a mining lease on his company land. Michael Kingley (Geoffrey Rush) is at the twilight of his life and is facing pressures from various family members on the decision, as well as the local press.
Though other members of the board are pushing hard to approve the lease, Michael’s granddaughter Madeline (Morgana Davies) is almost hysterically opposed to the plan. The two meet at the family’s home on the southern Australian coast, and as Michael talks things over with Madeline, he reflects on his unique childhood experiences while trying to come to a decision.
Those reflections, told in flashback, are adapted from Australian writer Colin Thiele’s beloved 1964 novel, and reach back decades to Michael’s idyllic childhood on the Coorong coast. Young Michael (Finn Little) lived in a remote area with his fisherman father Hideaway Tom (Jai Courtney), who preferred to live as far away from society as possible. He and his father have been separated from Michael’s mother and sister for some time, which adds a layer of melancholy to their scenic coastal home.
The world is never too far away, though, and Hideway Tom and Michael must constantly deal with a pair of hunters who regularly blast their way through the area’s pelican population. In the aftermath of one shoot, Michael recovers three baby pelicans and decides to raise them on his own. He even becomes close to one particular pelican, Mr. Percival, (named after his favorite character in William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”) which manages to attain some local celebrity.
Along the way, Michael also befriends an aboriginal man named Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson), who teaches the boy about local traditions and culture, and gives him a unique perspective on the beauties his world.
The tension with the hunters remains a persistent problem, though, echoing the contemporary story about the mining lease, and as the two narratives toggle back and forth, we learn more of how Michael made the transition back to regular civilization and how that will influence his final decision.
While there’s obviously a line connecting the two stories, the clash between Michael’s romanticized youth and the tech-heavy contemporary setting feel like an odd fit at times. The new story also makes the environmental message a lot more explicit, where the flashbacks make the same case with more subtlety.1 comment on this story
Rush’s veteran performance does make a nice anchor for the film, but you get the feeling that the movie might have been more effective if Seet had merely developed and focused on the original source material. Tack on some consistently inspiring Australian cinematography from Bruce Young, and you do have enough upside to give “Storm Boy” some consideration, maybe just not as a full price ticket.
Rating explained: “Storm Boy” is rated PG for some frightening situations and mild violence (mainly in the form of the birds being shot).