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Of Mice and Men

Three Blind Mice (2008)

The Times BFI 52nd London Film Festival

There are three admirable things about "Three Blind Mice": Firstly, the use of language. It's not just that this is an Australian film where the accents are mercifully closer to "Flight of the Conchords" instead of "Kath & Kim." It's the fresh banter, the overlapping arguments, the repetitive light conversation and the way the characters argue. Secondly, the staging. This is an obviously small-budget film, clearly made with little money, on real locations, and filmed wholly at night; but for once, these restrictions enable cleverness and freedom, and don't box the movie in. Thirdly, Matthew Newton – who wrote, directed, and starred – has done something which many big cinematic players can only hope to achieve: "Three Blind Mice" is not about what it's about. Three compelling reasons to see this most excellent film.

Dean (Toby Schmitz), Harry (Mr. Newton) and Sam (Ewen Leslie) are in the Australian navy, and shipping out in the morning for destination unknown. The night before the morning of has been the stuff of cinema even before Gene Kelly tapped his way through "On the Town." "Three Blind Mice" proves no exception, starting immediately with the nasty wounds on Sam's back, and Harry's cheerful insistence that ordering whores for a midnight fling will be the best way to end the evening. The lads then leave their hotel, stopping off in a deli, where Dean and Harry take over a poker game in the back while Sam flirts with waitress Emma (Gracie Otto, who also edited). Sam and Emma sneak off to flirt and then visit Sam's mother (Jacki Weaver) and grandfather(Charles "Bud" Tingwell), while Dean drags Harry to dinner with his girlfriend (Pia Miranda) and her parents (Barry Otto and Heather Mitchell). Of course, nothing goes quite to plan.

Almost everything is likable in this movie. It's not just when Harry comes back to the hotel room, sees it's splattered with blood, and without blinking says, "Waitress was a virgin, was she?" Or when Emma decides to impress Sam by playing a recorder with her nose, or later when she expertly charms his grandfather. It's how two small parts, Sam's mother and a woman he meets in hospital (Tina Bursill), are finely and completely drawn within their first six lines of dialogue. It's how the obvious smallness of the budget was compensated for with that acute ear for normal conversation, a keen sense of the dramatic in the every day, and a burning rage at the injustices people can suffer in their daily lives. It's a movie that knows a few things and has opinions about them too: Whether you've been bullied in a pharmacy or the middle of an ocean, the important thing is how you cope with the injustice. How phone calls are much more compelling when you can only hear one side. Actions have consequences, whether a drunken rant over a karaoke machine, counting cards at poker, or a lie told to cheer up your grandfather. And whether or not you realize it, the friends you choose have a big impact on your life.

The people in "Three Blind Mice" are very Australian, but their concerns are universal. Mr. Newton made the film without upfront government funding, although the print he is taking on a global film festival tour was paid for by Screen Australia. He has yet to secure a single distributor, whether in Australia or anywhere else. "Three Blind Mice" deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible. It's so intelligent, so opinionated, and so ripe for discussion that it's difficult to see how it could get left on the shelf. Let's hope that someone takes a chance on this film and lets us all enjoy a night in its company.


Very good review. Exactly my thinking on a number of points here.

I'd read a review before I saw the film, bagging Newton after he'd announced he'd written the whole thing in three days. If that's true then it's very impressive. How this guy has created something that manages to be this crisp and light of touch, at the same time as keeping it a little bit 'guerrila', is beyond me- but he pulls it off. Bloody loved this film.

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