A film by Richard Moir
Showing at Hoyts cinemas
Reviewed by Linda Paric
Deadly is in the western genre. A broody and tough but fair lawman goes to a small town, Yabbabri, and brings justice. In this case it is white man's justice for black Australians.
While the subject of the plot — the death in custody of an Aboriginal youth — is real enough, the outcome is pure fiction. The good white cop shows that he is not limited by his allegiance to the brotherhood of the blue uniform, his career in the force or even the threats from the deputy commissioner who takes him off the case.
True to the western genre, there is also a personal journey and the promise of romance. Finally, Tony, the by then considerably mellowed tough white cop, wins over Daphne, the black heroine.
The language in the film is raw and brutal and may offend some. It opens up the debate about the use of racist and derogatory language on screen. Does it serve to force us to reflect on the brutality of racism, its inherent senselessness and deep-rooted ignorance, or does it just make good theatre?
There is also a lot of blood, reminiscent of Blood Simple. While the first images of a "junkie" spurting blood from her mouth (after she is accidentally shot by the tough cop) are powerful, overkill soon takes the film into the surreal. The ending is also over the top. As producer Richard Moir says, "Deadly is a cop thriller".
Perhaps the strongest messages of the film are in the subtext: the desolation of Yabbabri's Aborigines, their struggle for identity as individuals, families and community and the helplessness of alcoholism, which keeps the white
publican in business with a segregated bar.
Yabbabri, we discover, was established after the white founding father massacred 17 Aborigines. He called it "dispersion". We see a picture of a white settler, gun in hand, standing over a group of Aborigines chained by the necks, hands and feet.
Even in the contemporary setting of Deadly, the whites control the Aboriginal people of Yabbabri with impunity. Daphne is one of the black children stripped of her Aboriginality and given to a white family. The black death in custody which is the subject of the story took place 15 years earlier, when the deputy commissioner was the local chief cop. The attempt to whitewash this incident keeps the tension in the film.
While Deadly takes on a topic that most film makers have steered away from, it deals only with overt racism and, like most films, keeps the issues to a personal and individual level.
Perhaps the most powerful symbol of white colonisation is the opening scene, when a shot from a white man's gun shatters the haunting tones of a didgeridoo. Jimmie's death, like the death of every other Aborigine in custody, is also the destruction of Aboriginal culture, art and future.
While Deadly may not be the Australian Dances With Wolves, it is a rare Australian film that gives a glimpse of what Moir described as "the Third World conditions that Australian blacks live in".