Movie Review – Burning Man (2011)

Burning Man, 2011.

Written and Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky.
Starring Matthew Goode, Bojana Novakovic, Rachel Griffiths, Jack Heanly and Essie Davis.


An English chef with a restaurant in Bondi tries to put his life and his relationship with his son back together in the wake of a life changing event.

We’re truly in an Australian film-making renaissance at the moment. If there is one Australian film that you see this year it needs to be this film. Let me start by saying that I really can’t flaw Burning Man, whatsoever. The story is beautiful, rich and most importantly for the subject matter, real. Don’t be expecting easy viewing for the opening stanza of the film, as you sit and attempt to piece together the jump forward and backward in time and location. Tom’s (Matthew Goode) story is told in fragments, transitioning by mood and feeling so you’re trying to understand the characters and the narrative in the glimpses of Tom’s erratic moods. The joyous highs and the depressing lows aren’t exaggerated; Teplitzky fashions a beautifully authentic film about a man navigating this great tragedy.

I was really moved by the vein of black humour throughout. In really dark times I know that I find myself seeking refuge in whatever humour I can conjur up to soften the hurt, to lighten the intense and pervasive dark. Tom’s always using humour to dig himself out of the pain that he’s feeling and Teplitzky’s scripting and direction in these scenes is timed to perfection.

The acting is flawless, and the performers are all phenomenal – none more so than leading man Matthew Goode. Goode gives Tom such a great full performance that requires him to convey the full spectrum of emotions – and most importantly a subdued and numb version of himself, during the depth of his trauma. He’s also a devilishly charming as Tom, so despite the series of poor decisions that he makes throughout the film, you’re on his side so you’re constantly reminded that he’s reacting to this tragedy.

The supporting cast is nothing short of spectacular. I wanted to mention Jack Heanly’s performance as Oscar (Tom’s son) up front because it is a staggering effort for a debut. Firstly, it’s so great because of his measured restrained performance, under the circumstances, and finally his ability to convey his character’s crescendo in the latter stages of the film. Heanly and Teplitzky have fashioned as good a debut as I’ve ever seen from a child actor. Rachel Griffiths demonstrates how an experienced and award winning support cast enhances a whole film. She’s great as the psychologist Miriam who refuses to treat Tom because of their sexual attraction.

Essie Davis is a phenomenal character actor and has blown me out of my seat with her performances in Cloud Street and Burning Man this year. Davis’ Karen is the wounded heart of Burning Man – keeping Tom mindful of his impact to Oscar during this period of the film.

And finally, Bojana Novakovic is phenomenal as Tom’s wife Sarah. Sarah’s harrowing journey informs the entire film and without her ability to echo the wonderful and awful memories of Tom’s past (with the same rich intensity) Burning Man would have fallen apart. This was one of the best ensembles of the year.

The direction is elemental and vibrant; rich colour literally jumps out of the screen. The director of photography Garry Phillips brings warmth and life to food, fire, ocean, and sex. There is a vibrance in every moment of Burning Man that really makes for spectacular viewing on the big screen – but something to look forward to on a crisp Blu-ray. The setting is also disguised really well so that you didn’t feel like it had to have been based in Sydney at all. It literally could have been anywhere.

Martin Connor’s editing is seamless and has an important job of piecing together the fragmented narrative. In my interview with director Jonathan Teplitzky he said that he wanted the film to flow according to the mood of each particular scene. This tunes your emotion to the the protagonist’s and for me it was disarming to be attuned to the emotional roller-coaster of Tom – but a refreshing experience to be so invested in the journey.

This is one of the best films I’ve seen this year, and it’s probably the best Australian film I’ve seen this year. This is a must see and a must buy. Get out and see it – and if you missed it, pre-order it people – that’s why you’ve got the internet. Jonathan Teplitzky is a name that you’ll want to remember, and if you see it on a DVD / Blu-ray sleeve or a movie poster, it’ll be worth a look.

Blake Howard is a writer/site director/podcaster at the Follow him on Twitter here: @BLAGatCCO.