HIGH GROUND is very much doing its own thing
HIGH GROUND (2021)
Before I begin, I would like to issue a warning that this film is intensely graphic. High Ground is very intense and is not for the faint of heart, but it is historically necessary to present a realistic account of the brutal hardships of the Aboriginal Australians.
Lately I’ve been doing this thing where I hold back on researching films before I screen them. Most of the time I don’t want the trailers to ruin anything, but sometimes I just like to be totally surprised. Before screening High Ground, I had no clue it was a western, which is a genre I am not a fan of in the slightest. Nonetheless, I gave it my full attention and my best judgement.
While it fits within the boundaries of the Western genre, High Ground is very much doing its own thing. It is very graphic and very uncomfortable, but it’s necessary to accurately depict what happened to Australia’s indigenous people. It’s a fictionalized telling of many different true stories, but it is not to be mistaken for something like Saving Private Ryan. Nothing about this film romanticizes the hardships the Aboriginal people faced. It’s a story rooted in harsh historic reality that feels like a documentary at times.
In 1930s Australia, a northern Australian police officer named Travis (Simon Baker) is forced to reconcile his past involvement in the massacre of an Aboriginal tribe over a decade prior. He must now work with Gutjuk, the lone survivor of the massacre in order to stop another Aboriginal warrior gone rogue and hunting colonists. Everything ultimately turns on its head, and Travis has to face the consequences. At times the story was really difficult to follow, so I became restless pretty quickly. If the visuals were not as crisp as they are, I would have had a harder time paying attention.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The acting in this film will not go unnoticed as more and more people see it. Even during the times I had no clue what was happening, I bought every second of the performances. Jacob Junior Nayinggul and Simon Baker really carried the film with their realistic portrayals, further feeding the documentary feel of the film. Nayinggul, along with Wityana Marika who produced the film and plays Grandfather Dharrpa, are both from Aboriginal families.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
From the beautiful landscape shots to the excellent color grading and composition, every detail inside each frame is pleasing to the eye. The film was shot in the breathtaking Kakadu National Park in northern Australia, a widely known Aboriginal culture site. This was one of the many aspects of this film that show how dedicated the filmmakers were to getting every detail right.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The beautiful layers in the sound design of the Kakadu wilderness entraps you with each scene. However, without any proper score, the film tends to drag. I definitely understand the decision to not include any sort of non-diegetics in order to fully capture the setting, but it took me until the end to realize what was missing. The film ends with an original tribal song by Wityana Marika to send us off, which ties everything together quite nicely.
I have no doubt this will reign significant to many Australians, especially ones who are very interested in the histories of the Aboriginal people. For me, I didn’t enjoy it as much as western buffs certainly will. I would also like to highlight the obvious passion these filmmakers have for this story and its characters. The drive for this kind of movie to be made has to come from someone who wants to discover the truth and share it with the world. And for that, I can’t help but respect the heck out of it.
HIGH GROUND is On Digital and On Demand May 14, 2021.