Healing: Film Review

Healing Film Still - H 2014

Healing Film Still - H 2014

Thoroughly committed performances from the actors and their avian co-stars give this gentle prison drama wings.

Hugo Weaving and Don Hany star in an emotionally satisfying story of redemption set on a prison farm in the Australian bush.

Australian director Craig Monahan’s Healing may be the gentlest prison drama ever made. That’s not to say it lacks power; rather, the narrative unfurls as organically and precisely as the wings of the majestic but damaged birds that the film’s minimum-security inmates are charged with caring for.

Monahan, whose last film was the twisty 1998 thriller The Interview, has reteamed with the star of that film, Hugo Weaving, to craft a drama for grown-ups set in the mellow and spiritually restorative surrounds of the Australian bush. It opens domestically May 8 and screens at the Seattle International Film Festival later this month, with a solid chance at art house slots and further festival berths overseas.

Weaving is terrific as Matt Perry, a senior case worker at a prerelease prison farm in rural Victoria, where he heads up a rehabilitation program involving the care of injured eagles, falcons and other raptors. But the film belongs to Don Hany, a veteran of Australian television starring in his first major film.

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As Viktor Khadem, an Iranian-Australian inmate nearing the end of a 16-year stretch for murder, Hany brings an impressive mix of toughness and wounded fragility. Charged with caring for a mighty wedged-tailed eagle with a broken wing, Viktor finds a soul mate -- a fellow creature that is strong but vulnerable -- and together they help each other prepare for a return to the outside world.

Inspired by a real-life raptor rehabilitation program run by Victoria’s Healesville Sanctuary in partnership with the state’s prison system, Monahan and co-writer Allison Nisselle have fleshed out their film with a cast of inmates who are each broken in their own way. Hostilities flare between Viktor’s protege, Paul (Xavier Samuel, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse’s), and a nasty troublemaker named Warren (Animal Kingdom’s Anthony Hayes), while Paul’s bunkmate Shane (Mark Leonard Winter), a vaguely drawn character, hovers on the fringes.

A simmering menace permeates the script but the threatened violence never eventuates. Instead, the focus is on uplift, with David Hirschfelder (Australia) providing a spirited symphonic score and Oscar-winning Australian cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) beautifully tracking the flight paths of the magnificent birds of prey.

Production company: Pointblank Pictures

Cast: Hugo Weaving, Don Hany, Xavier Samuel, Mark Leonard Winter, Jane Menelaus

Director: Craig Monahan

Screenwriters: Craig Monahan, Alison Nisselle

Executive producer: Richard S. Guardian

Producers: Tait Brady, Craig Monahan

Director of photography: Andrew Lesnie

Production designer: Les Binns

Costume designer: Jeanne Cameron

Music: David Hirschfelder

Editor: Suresh Ayyar

Sales: Lightning Entertainment

No MPAA rating, 119 minutes