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By Daniel Lammin
16th November 2015

This year has been a sterling one for Australian cinema, filled with genuinely stunning films such as ‘Holding The Man’, ‘The Dressmaker’, ‘Partisan’, ‘Women He’s Undressed’ and ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. It seems that a kind of maturity and daring has returned en masse to our film industry, with many releases finding the balance between integrity and entertainment. Unfortunately, one of the films I’d hoped would end up in that list turned out to be anything but - Brendan Cowell’s directorial debut ‘Ruben Guthrie’. If the others are mature and daring, this one is petulant and lazy.

Based on Cowell’s acclaimed play, the film follows successful ad man and party boy Ruben Guthrie (Patrick Brammall) as he navigates a year of sobriety after his girlfriend Zoya (Abbey Lee) leaves him, fed up with his out-of-control alcoholism. The film launches in its opening moments with brash energy and excess, loud and thumping and in-your-face. This seems like a good place to start for what you assume will be some sort of commentary on Australian drinking culture, but it turns out that Cowell isn’t interested in that.

The shock of the film is that even though Ruben goes through a year of temptations and heavy questioning, he never actually gets anywhere. This is never the fault of Brammall, whose performance is the highlight of the film, far more detailed and human than the material he’s working with, but the filmmaking is tremendously lazy and unfocused, and the characters surrounding Ruben are mostly reprehensible. His parents (Robin Nevin and Jack Thompson) only exist to question their son’s decision to go sober, his new love interest (Harriet Dyer) is aggravating and unlikable, and his boss (Jeremy Sims) spends the whole film trying to force booze down Ruben’s throat even though he himself is staying sober. They pale in comparison though to Ruben’s gay best friend Damian (Alex Dimitriades), a repulsive creature who offers the greatest temptations and excesses to Ruben in the form of booze and drugs. Of course the most debaucherous character is gay, and of course he needs to be loud and obnoxious and irresponsible. This kind of gay stereotype is so old and tired, and its use in the film is flat-out offensive. You’d have thought we’d have moved past this kind of horrible characterisation. Thankfully, Abbey Lee and Brandon Thwaites (as a new up-and-comer threatening Ruben’s position at the ad firm) are both breaths of fresh air, and Brammall really is so good that he makes the film worth watching.


Perhaps the biggest problem with ‘Ruben Guthrie’ is that it leaves you baffled and confused as to what its point is. It doesn’t seem to want to comment too much on the drinking culture or the deeper reasons why Ruben drinks so much, but instead just says, "this is a thing, let’s watch what happens". Brendan Cowell is clearly pitching it as a comedy, but the comedy is without the bite or satire it seems to be screaming for. It’s a tremendous pity, because there’s a lot of potential in the concept, some of the writing is excellent and Patrick Brammall is exceptional. This makes its ultimate failure as a film all the more disappointing. Instead of joining the rest of Australian cinema in 2015 as another memorable example of the great work happening in our film industry, ‘Ruben Guthrie’ instead ends up being like a hangover you wish you could just forget.

As they always have with Australian films, Madman have delivered an exceptional transfer to Blu-ray for ‘Ruben Guthrie’. The 1080p 1.85:1 transfer is crystal clear, with a dull golden hue like a glass of champagne. Colours are bright and detail is excellent throughout. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is also excellent, well-balanced and punchy. The sound design of the film is loud and obnoxious, so credit goes to the disc for preserving these artistic decisions. Overall, this is an excellent presentation of Cowell’s debut.

Perhaps the biggest problem with ‘Ruben Guthrie’ is that it leaves you baffled and confused as to what its point is.

Madman offer a small selection of features for the film, chief of which is ‘The Making of Ruben Guthrie’ (11.43), which offers insight into the development of the film. Cowell talks openly about the personal experiences that inspired the play and film, and how he worked with Brammall to create Ruben when the character is so unlike the actor playing him. It’s interesting stuff, but doesn’t help clear up the intentions behind the film. A short Q&A with Brammall and Cowell (8:08) show how charming the two men are, but is pretty forgettable and repeats a lot of material already in the making-of. There’s also a theatrical trailer and the music video for the turgid Sarah Blasko song written for the film (3:58) whose lyrics are so on-the-nose they’re almost impossible to listen to.

RELEASE DATE: 18/11/2015
RUN TIME: 1h 33m
CAST: Patrick Brammall
Brenton Thwaites
Alex Dimitriades
Jack Thompson
Abbey Lee
Robyn Nevin
PRODUCER: Kath Shelper
SCORE: Sarah Blasko
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