Until the current administration, I could always take comfort knowing the British probably did more terrible things than the Americans ever could. For instance, they might test atomic bombs in Australia and radiate the aborigines, which is the public service announcement of Ground Zero. It isn’t only a PSA, it’s also a reasonably thrilling thriller and a strange father and son story. But the relevance–the British trying to cover up killing a bunch of innocent people–makes Ground Zero an odd film. By all other elements, it’s an Australian take on the mid-1980s thriller–it was shot in Panavision (though the only releases to date have been pan and scan and it’s obvious there’s often something or someone missing) and it’s got a really annoying, mid-1980s synthesizer score booming throughout… sometimes too loud to hear dialogue.
But it’s a good mystery thriller. It fetishizes filmmaking a little–the camera operators in particular–and its handling of that material is very cool. It actually goes just the right amount into it, which is a pleasant change. The political element takes the film over at a certain point and it’s an immediate change in tone, but there’s a solid foundation, both due to script and Colin Friels.
Friels’s performance–complete with a mid-1980s, Australian semi-mullet–allows Ground Zero to operate on its three levels (suspenseful thriller, politically relevant piece, and son searching for his father). None of the three levels gets quite the attention they need or deserve, but Friels makes them all work together–he convinces he’s a father trying to be better for his son, while still confused about his own father, he convinces he’s a regular guy in the middle of the political intrigue (Hitchcock wisely wrapped his situations in a layer of artiface, something Ground Zero might have benefitted greatly from doing), and also the movie star. Friels is a leading man movie star, but he’s also able to be someone’s father (something American movie stars do not do well–or at all anymore… Clooney hasn’t been a parent since he hit the big time).
The other performances, particularly Jack Thompson, are very good. Donald Pleasence has a small role and, even though the script fails him, he has some excellent moments.
I remember the film being more of a “wow,” but it has been at least seven–maybe nine–years since I last saw it. It’s incredibly solid though and sometimes solid is good enough.
Directed by Michael Pattinson and Bruce Myles; written by Mac Gudgeon and Jan Sardi; director of photography, Steve Dobson; edited by David Pulbrook; music by Tom Bahler; production designer, Brian Thomson; produced by Pattinson; released by Avenue Pictures.
Starring Colin Friels (Harvey Denton), Jack Thompson (Trebilcock), Donald Pleasence (Prosper Gaffney), Natalie Bate (Pat Denton), Burnham Burnham (Charlie), Simon Chilvers (Commission president), Neil Fitzpatrick (Hooking) and Bob Maza (Walemari).