NITRAM is a new drama-thriller from IFC that relates to the real-life 1996 Port Arthur massacre. It’s not about this actual tragedy, but rather the life of the shooter in the years leading up to it. Very memorable performances by all actors. Read our full Nitram movie review here!
NITRAM is a new IFC drama-thriller that could also be labeled true-crime. However, it isn’t about the actual crime (or tragedy, which a mass shooting should be called). Instead, we follow the life of the shooter in the years leading up to the 1996 Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania (Australia).
This is definitely a very intriguing approach in the sense that it highlights the issue of gun control and mental illness. However, it has also received quite a bit of backlash from Tasmania, which I can also understand. Very memorable performances by all actors and in particular Caleb Landry Jones in the title role and Judy Davis as his mother.
Continue reading our Nitram movie review below.
Amazing performances by the lead actors
Caleb Landry Jones is the kind of actor who, for me, always leaves an impression when he’s part of a movie. He has a presence and intensity that just stays with you. Still, this role is something very different compared to his previous roles, and he is breathtakingly good. Often in both sad and very scary ways. For this role, Caleb Landry Jones won the 2021 Cannes Film Festival “Best Actor”-award.
On the other end of the spectrum, in some ways, you have Judy Davis. She is another actor that always delivers amazing portrayals. In Nitram, I found myself just studying her and being completely in awe. While Caleb Landry Jones delivers a very active and physical performance in the title role (the name of the shooter spelled backward), Judy Davis’ performance is all about observing and reacting.
MORE JUDY DAVIS
You can see both the pain and disdain in her eyes, as she watches and listens to her son. Their relationship is strained – to put it mildly. And the camera often just focuses on Judy Davis (The Dressmaker) as she watches him. That’s when pure movie magic happens for me. I get completely lost in a scene.
In fact, I forget I’m watching a movie and feel like I’m there in the room with them.
On the other hand, this does pose a bit of a problem. After all, both Caleb Landry Jones (Get Out) and Judy Davis portray real-life people. And so, the emotions in Nitram ultimately all have to do with a person, who is a real-life mass murderer. I do not feel sorry for him. I feel sorry for his victims. And I feel for all the people who are now grieving and missing people whose lives he took.
I should also mention that Anthony LaPaglia (Without a Trace) is in this movie as the father of the shooter. He, too, delivers an amazing performance. In a way, combining exactly what Caleb Landry Jones and Judy Davis do.
And finally, portraying another real-life person is Essie Davis as Helen. You should know Essie Davis from her starring role in the horror movie The Babadook (2014) by the amazing Australian director Jennifer Kent.
Facts changed to benefit the perpetrator
After reading about the real mass shooter, I actually felt a bit angry that this film did make me feel for him. The real story, which can be read in highlights on Wikipedia or various articles, tells quite a different story. He was a lot worse in the years prior to the shooting, than Nitram ever lets on.
Including shooting his air gun at both people and dogs. Not just inanimate objects as shown in this movie, where he seems like a real animal lover. Maybe he was, in part, but he is also (as are most serial or mass murderers) someone who tortured animals in the past.
Basically, don’t take the actual details of this story as more than a fictionalized version of events. In the “staying close to the facts”-department, this movie is sorely lacking. And it’s a damn shame. Mainly because it paints the shooter in a much better light than he deserves when you read up on what he really did.
And hey, I completely accept that you need to change things to make the movie work. But when it makes someone, who did a despicable and terrible thing, look better, then you’re making some wrong choices along the way. The point of this movie is to focus on gun control and by showing us the perpetrator’s POV leading up to his crime, we do see terrible things.
Obviously, he should not have been anywhere near guns. Still, things are told in ways that differ too much from facts. Particularly in relation to specific events which are shown in Nitram but in a dialed down way. Yes, real life is much worse than fiction, but that should never be to a perpetrator’s advantage, and I think that actually happens here.
I do not believe it was the intention of the filmmakers, but that is how it comes across for me when I watch it and then read up on the facts.
Watch Nitram in theaters or On-Demand
Justin Kurzel is the director of Nitram and the screenplay was written by Shaun Grant. The two have worked together on several projects together prior to this one. Including True History of the Kelly Gang (2019) and the feature film debut for them both, Snowtown (2011).
I’ll gladly admit that as far as filmmaking goes, they have created an amazing movie. Any grievance I have with this movie has nothing to do with his skills or the quality of the movie. However, when you base a movie on real events, it comes with obligations. That is where I do have some issues. At least, I quickly did when I read up on the real events afterward and felt like I was lied to in this film.
The facts are: This is a work of fiction, based on various real events leading up to a mass shooting. And the film is focused on the life of a man, who ultimately killed 35 people and injured an additional 23 in the Port Arthur massacre of 28–29 April 1996. Anytime the focus is on the perpetrator rather than the victims of a crime, you are surely moving on thin ice.
If you watch Nitram, then I really urge you to just read up on the 1996 Port Arthur massacre (this is a link to Wikipedia) and the life of the shooter. Actually, even the IMDb trivia segment of this movie has a few choice words regarding some of the “facts” shared just before the end credits.
To be clear, I do think Nitram is the kind of movie that you should watch. Both for the amazing actors and the bigger picture issues, which could always need more focus. At the same time, I can also understand why many people were not interested in this movie being made. Yes, I am quite torn, which is why I think you must read up on the facts after watching those. It cannot stand alone.
NITRAM is out in theaters and on-demand on March 30, 2022.
Director: Justin Kurzel
Writer: Shaun Grant
Cast: Caleb Landry Jones, Judy Davis, Anthony LaPaglia, Essie Davis, Sean Keenan
Nitram lives with his mother and father in suburban Australia in the Mid 1990s. He lives a life of isolation and frustration at never being able to fit in. That is until he unexpectedly finds a close friend in a reclusive heiress, Helen. However when that relationship meets a tragic end, and Nitram’s loneliness and anger grow, he begins a slow descent that leads to disaster.