Caleb Landry Jones devastatingly portrays the disturbed and despicable individual responsible for committing one of Australia’s most heinous crimes. Nitram tells the backstory leading up to the events of the horrific Port Arthur mass shooting in 1996. It is a tragic exploration of mental illness, the relative ease of obtaining lethal firearms, and the unchecked behavior of a clearly dangerous psychopath. He is not named or published in the film. Nor will he be in this review. The film serves as a warning, not a glorification.
Nitram (Jones) lives with his parents in an Australian suburb. Tall, stringy-haired, and unkempt, he’s a neighborhood nuisance lighting fireworks. His father (Anthony LaPaglia) puts up with and facilitates Nitram’s rude antics. His mother (Judy Davis) yells at him. She reminds him to take his medication. Father has saved money to buy a bed and breakfast on the ocean.
Nitram meets Helen (Essie Davis), a wealthy heiress with a large house and pack of dogs. Lonely and eccentric, she befriends Nitram then showers him with gifts. Helen does not allow him to shoot his air rifle. He decides to move in with Helen; which shocks his confused parents. A series of mishaps gives Nitram even more freedom. He begins to collect assault rifles and shotguns.
Everyone in Nitram’s life recognizes his instability. They are frustrated by him. But do nothing to establish boundaries or force treatment. He lies constantly. Something that his parents willingly accept to cope. This allows Nitram to operate unchecked. His bizarre friendship with Helen opens up financial opportunities he could never have achieved. Director Justin Kurzel (Assassin’s Creed, True History of the Kelly) treats Nitram as a ticking bomb. His inability to meet women and have sexual contacts fuels further isolation. When his family life and Helen takes a downturn, Nitram does not have or try to attain understanding. He’s simply incapable of empathy. An inherent trait that can lead to violent outcomes; which is exactly what happened in this circumstance.
Gun Control in Nitram
Nitram’s most important theme is gun control. Deranged people should not be able to purchase mass casualty weapons. The scenes of him gun shopping are absolutely infuriating. The dealers jump at the chance for easy money from an enthusiastic customer; who certainly comes off as an odd duck. There’s never a moment of why are we selling an arsenal to this person? The sad truth is Nitram would have gone elsewhere if refused. The fact that he was able to procure such killing machines is the glaring problem.
The question arises, why make this film? Justin Kurzel is not giving a killer fame or more notoriety. His awful crimes are public. They shook Australia to the core and caused swift gun restrictions. Nitram serves as a red flag on several fronts. Guns in the hands of the mentally ill lead to disaster. Those surrounding these people have a responsibility to act for others’ general welfare. I realize this is a broad and practically difficult statement. But Nitram’s parents knew what he was capable of. And his perverse enjoyment in causing pain.
Australia took rapid and concrete steps to stop gun violence. America is washed in blood and bullets daily. The death toll rings constantly, but we still do not have the political will to address the unceasing carnage. How many Nitram’s are out there right now stocking up for the next shooting spree? America has become numb to mass killings. Stuck in an unproductive discourse while filling body bags. Nitramat the very least, shows that some progress can be made if society demands it.
Nitram is produced by Good Things Productions, Wild Bunch International, and Stan. Nitram will have a theatrical, digital, and AMC + release in the US on March 30th.
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