The Turning is an ambitious project to say the least. Tim Winton’s seventeen-chapter collection of stories is brought to life from the perspectives of seventeen different directors. The all-Australian cast is a mixture of veterans and fresh faced newcomers making their mark in Australian film. It is marketed as a ‘unique cinema event,’ with each viewer receiving a full colour 40 page program book with their ticket, and a ten minute interval giving it a theatre viewing feel. You’ll find during and after the film that you need the book to keep track of all the characters and intricate storylines. It’s a relaxing film and a glorious representation on how far Australian film has come, but some parts are too abstract and unfortunately dull the impact of the film overall.
The film is split into its separate chapters or vignettes by the chapter title and it mainly revolves around the recurring character of Vic Lang. Vic and his wife Gail are the only recurring characters and we see them at different stages of their life. But it can take a while to piece together that they are recurring characters, because there are eight different actors playing Vic, and three playing Gail. The most notable and powerful portrayals of Vic are easily Dan Wyllie (Defender) and Josh McConville (Commission). They portray Vic as a troubled man dealing with his demons in the form of an unhappy marriage and an absent father. But not all of the chapters are related; half of them portray completely unrelated stories but are still somewhat intertwined.
I would be lying if I didn’t say I excitedly sat in my seat waiting for Cate Blanchett, Miranda Otto, Rose Byrne and Hugo Weaving’s chapters to play. You won’t be disappointed by any of these veterans of the international and Australian screens. Blanchett is radiant and at her best playing a light hearted Gail who worries about spending Christmas with Vic’s mother (Reunion). Otto and Byrne play mothers who form a close bond in the eponymous chapter (The Turning) where Byrne is battered by her husband and wonders how she can free herself. Byrne is gritty and the chapter is shocking and brutal but offers a heartbreaking realism.
However, the performance that best showcases the deep and real intricacies of the craft of acting is definitely Weaving (Commission). Weaving plays Vic’s father, Bob, who left him when he was young and moved out into the remote Western Australian bush. He portrays a haunted man who has lived in isolation for over fifteen years achieving his goal of becoming sober. The fragile father-son relationship between Bob and Vic is artfully and deeply expressed by Weaving and McConville. The chapter is directed by actor David Wenham, who both surprises and delights with this beautiful vignette of the futility of lost time.
The entire project succeeds in capturing the essence of Winton’s writing across the board and in every single chapter. Whether it’s the use of the Western Australian landscape or the buried tragedies of the characters, the essence is there and remains a throbbing heartbeat of the film. Yet while each chapter has its own impact, whether sad, happy or deeply moving, it is let down by a small handful. In its entirety, a majority of them flow well together and form a larger picture. Although wonderful short films in their own right, several don’t relate to any others and feel isolated. Two feel completely and utterly unrelated, appearing abstract, and don’t quite fit into the context of the film as a whole.
The combination of these with the more powerful chapters immensely lets the entire project down. The film is a long viewing, going over three hours, and while an enjoyable film it is evident that several chapters could have been omitted. The powerful vignettes leave you eagerly wanting more, but the final impact of the collection is diminished and what could have been a masterpiece is distorted by its weakest pieces.