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March 10, 2023 / levelFILM

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Radha Mitchell, Ilsa Fogg, Liz Alexander, Eric Bana

Directed By: Robert Connolly

Follows Abby, a child who befriends a magnificent wild blue groper while diving. When Abby realizes that the fish is under threat, she takes inspiration from her activist Mum, Dora, and takes on poachers to save her friend.

Written By Darren

Rating 3.5 out of 5

Blueback brings the Australian ocean environment to life on screen in all of its stunning beauty, that combined with a story with a rich mother-daughter relationship and environmental protection themes, makes for an entertaining film.

Director Robert Connolly made headlines worldwide last year with his hit film The Dry, which not only made waves at the Australian box office, but found greater popularity worldwide. Before adapting the sequel novel to The Dry, Connolly made a more personal film that he adapted from the novel by Tim Winton, focusing on the ocean environment and wildlife in Australia. The film follows Abby, a young woman, who returns home to look after her sick mother and begins to reflect on her childhood with her mother. Specifically, Abby remembers a wild blue groper that she met in the ocean growing up and the actions she took to save the fish from poachers as a teenager.

The themes of marine conversation and anti-poaching ring loud and clear throughout the film. While the messaging is simple and nothing new, it is effective and reminds audiences why our oceans need to be protected. Never for a second is the messaging heavy handed, nor does Connolly push a specific solution to this problem, but he uses his story to raise awareness and help continue this important conversation that is currently being had in today’s society about environmental conservation.

Leading the film is Radha Mitchell and Ilsa Fogg as Dora and Abby respectively, the mother and daughter who are the focus of the film. Mitchell is great as Dora, capturing this free spirited mother who at times is more concerned about her environmental activism and imparting these important lessons on her daughter, rather than being a traditional mother. She does so with care, never for a second crafting a character who does not care, but one who is more concerned with the woman her daughter is going to grow up to be rather than being there for her in the moment. Though, it is Fogg who impressed me most. Blueback marks Fogg’s first on-screen performance, and not only does she co-lead the film alongside a cast of talented actors, but she consistently steals the spotlight. There is a warmth and determination that she brings to Abby which immediately bonds the audience to her. Her on screen chemistry with Mithcell is very good, allowing the two of them to create the emotional core of the story.

Eric Bana delivers a memorable turn as Mad Macka, one of Dora’s friends, proving yet again why he is one of the greatest actors to come out of Australia in the past couple of decades. I always enjoy Mia Wasikowska, and she is a great casting choice for the grown up version of Abby, but she is not the focus of the film and does not get to make a lasting impression on the audience.

But, there is no doubt in my mind as to what the highlight of the film is: the visuals. The Australian ocean environment is beautifully captured on screen with outstanding underwater cinematography that at times makes it feel like you are watching a nature documentary. There is minimal CGI used to recreate the ocean environment, instead Connolly had the actors diving and shooting on location and interacting with real wildlife to create an authentic experience. And when effects are needed to create the sea animals, most notably the main blue groper, practical effects and puppeteering is utilized to create a creature for the cast to interact with. It helps the audience to care for the animals in the film, as you can feel the intimacy of the interactions between them and Dora and Abby. This has a profound effect on the core story and messaging of the film that could not be achieved with CGI animals, as such real interaction between human and animals that brings the emotions of this film to life cannot be faked by computers.

Anchored by solid performances from Radha Mitchell, Ilsa Fogg and Eric Bana, with a good screenplay from director Robert Connolly that captures the environmental protection themes of the story, Blueback is a crowd pleasing film that truly soars when showcasing its magnificent underwater cinematography while capturing the beauty of Australia’s oceans as a nature documentary would.

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