Stir (1980, Australia)
An account of the 1974 Bathurst riot, and the best Australian prison movie by quite a distance.
Written by Bob Jewson, who was a prisoner (albeit in the minimum security section, away from the main action) during the riot, and shot in SA’s Gladstone Gaol, it has an authentic 1970s prison feel. It stars Bryan Brown as ‘China’ Jackson, who had been at the prison (renamed Gatunga for the film) three years earlier, and who had been on the receiving end of the brutality and had later spoken to the media upon his release about the beatings which followed an abortive protest. When he returns to the same gaol on a short, six-month term, the prison officers are waiting for him (keen to hold him to account for his public outspokenness) and the prisoners are in desperate need of a leader in their ongoing fight against the regime.
The film works because in addition to the unsettling violence and the mounting tension, there are credible characters and some powerful sub-plots: the battle Jackson has in wanting to stand and fight, but knowing that he places his short sentence at risk; the troubled, vulnerable officer Norton (Max Phipps), who is ashamed at his involvement in the brutality three years earlier, but whose apology Jackson steadfastly refuses to accept, and who is shunned by his colleagues as soft and a ‘crim-lover’; and Redford (Dennis Miller), a nuggetty heterosexual mate of Jackson’s who is constantly on the prowl for young men to share his bed. The film shows clearly why the riot was ‘necessary’ in the prisoners’ eyes – to stop the beatings, the constant provocation, the arbitrary use of punishments for minor offences, the regular breaking of ‘no reprisals’ promises – but also offers an almost-plausible explanation for the conduct of the officers, who believed that the only way to ‘stay on top’ of the prisoners was to keep them in a position of fear. But the film doesn’t excuse the officers and is particularly damning of the Governor’s failures to acknowledge the issues or do anything positive about them. A strong film with some standout performances.
Posted on May 2nd, 2009 at 12:29 am. Updated on August 29th, 2019 at 8:44 pm.
#10 in the Top 500