Told in flashback, Blueback is a feel-good story with a strong environmental message about protecting the reef.
Abby Jackson (Mia Wasikowska) is a marine biologist researching coral bleaching. Unexpectedly, she learns that her mother Dora (Radha Mitchell) has just had a stroke and can’t speak. She quickly returns to her childhood home on the Western Australian coast. That sparks memories of what a strong influence Dora was in forming Abby’s world view. Introduced to the ocean virtually from birth, Abby took another major step when she was eight. As a child, she formed a lifelong bond to a wild blue groper, which she named Blueback.
Also unfolding is an ugly story of developers looking to exploit the pristine land and sea that is the Jacksons’ home and surroundings. Dora is passionate about keeping them out and holding them to account – a fervour she passes onto her daughter. Blueback also involves the colourful characters and other influences on the pair’s lives.
Based on Tim Winton’s novel, first published in 1997, the movie is written and directed by Robert Connolly, with additional writing from Winton. While the story looks and feels contrived (much of which comes down to the scripting), it still had the power to move me. The performances are, by and large, solid. Radha Mitchell is impressive as a spirited eco-warrior. I thought the three actresses who play Abby did a fine job, starting with pre-teen Ariel Joy Donoghue and moving to Isla Fogg, who has a larger role as a 15-year-old.
Mia Wasikowska (Bergman Island) has been stretched far beyond what is required of her here, but still displays a level-headed maturity. Eric Bana revels in a larger-than-life persona as an abalone fisherman who doesn’t mind bending the rules a little. And then there’s a cheeky respect shown by Clarence Ryan as an older Briggs, Abby’s childhood friend.
The landscape and ocean shots – both in and out of the water – are spectacular and instantly hit the mark. Cinematography is by Andrew Commis.
With many emotional moments, Blueback is unashamedly manipulative. This is a family film that some will appreciate more than others.
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.