« Celebrations of Life | Main | The Emperor's New Foes »

Cold Case

Bunya Productions

Limbo (2023)

The town of Limbo is built in the opal mines which dot the Queensland landscape. Literally inside the mines; the town church was hewn out of the rock, as is the eerie motel where Travis (an unrecognizable Simon Baker) pitches up. On arrival the first thing he does is shoot up; he's that kind of a cop. His addiction is controlled, but he's annoyed to be on a fool's errand, a cold case of the disappearance of an Aboriginal girl named Charlotte 20 years ago. But his presence in Limbo won't pass unremarked.

Writer-director-editor-cinematographer Ivan Sen, who also did the music and the casting, struck gold with this story of a lost soul in a living definition of a liminal space. The choice to shoot in black and white makes everything even more disorienting. The difference between the dark heat of the underground spaces and the unsparing glare of the Australian day makes the sensation of being a lost cause come into vivid life. There are also plenty of aerial shots of the weird, vast, creepy landscape, where abandoned mines are empty, echoing caves, all excellent places to dispose of the body of a girl who was last seen walking home from the shop with a jug of milk and a loaf of bread. Charlotte has two siblings still living, a brother named Charlie (the extraordinary Rob Collins), a miner who lives in a filthy trailer, and Emma (Natasha Wanganeen), a waitress in the town’s waffle cafe who is raising Charlie's two kids along with her own daughter. Neither of them talks to cops, especially not white cops. Travis doesn't much want them to talk either; the more he's stonewalled the sooner he can go home. But someone damages his car; and it will take a few days for the replacement parts to come in. While he is stuck there with literally nothing to do, Travis decides to get stuck in.

It's remarkable how organic the detective work feels. Travis is a deeply unhappy man, covered in tattoos left over from his days in the drug squad, and a good cop almost in spite of himself, able to work miracles simply by showing up and shutting up. Mr. Baker has clearly been dreaming of the chance to define himself apart from his work on "The Mentalist" and under a shaved head which makes him look like Heisenberg-era Bryan Cranston, his weary decency somehow cracks people open in spite of themselves. Mr. Collins, a ferociously charismatic actor who this critic maintains should be the next James Bond, here plays a man nearly crippled by his sadness at life's injustices, both those that happened to him and those he has caused. Ms. Wanganeen plays Emma as a woman who still has some fight in her, and is surprised at the impact this stranger is having, both on herself and her children. Travis’s silent style also works on Joseph (Nicholas Hope), the elderly brother of the late prime suspect, who lives in a cave outside town with only his disgusting memories for company, and who is the only one left who might know what really happened. But the question remains, if Travis does discover the truth about Charlotte, will anyone other than Emma, Charlie and the kids care about it.

Everything about “Limbo” is unusual, not least that its unsatisfying resolution is precisely correct and exactly what this story needed. The beautiful sequence where Emma invites Travis over the dinner and the kids warm to him despite him looking like a drug dealer. Travis does the dishes while Emma puts the kids to bed, and then they get drunk in silence around her dining room table. Both of them know what’s happening, neither are sure it’s a good idea, but neither can drag themselves away. The silence around the tremendous pain in this place leaves the opportunity for hope, of a kind. Mr. Sen is a tremendous talent; this is his seventh feature and the most underappreciated movie at the Berlinale. Its combination of the unusual - and unusually beautiful - setting, actors at the top of their game, a hugely distinctive visual palette and a plot that swerves most procedural clichés makes “Limbo” an incredible treat. Don’t miss it.


Post a comment

This weblog only allows comments from registered users. To comment, please Sign In.

© 2008-2024 Critic's Notebook and its respective authors. All rights reserved.
Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Subscribe to Critic's Notebook | Follow Us on X
Contact Us | Write for Us | Reprints and Permissions | Powered by TypePad