Four years ago Australian character actor David Field made his directorial debut, starring newcomer George Basha, on the well-received drama film The Combination. It’s easy to see the connections between that film all those years ago and this new film Convict, this time Basha working behind the camera with Field. Both films aim to shine a light on the multicultural diversity and hint at how ethnic people are neglected in portraying real life Australia on camera. But most of all, both feature Basha playing average Australians rather than the bad guy roles commonly reserved for ethnic actors in the Australian film industry.
In Convict, Basha plays Ray, an ex-soldier serving 18 months for the manslaughter of a white, racist, young man who coaxes him into a fight. As payback, the rich father of the deceased bribes the corrupt warden (Field) to make Ray’s sentence as unpleasant and long as possible. In the jail Ray is caught up in the cultural rivalry between Middle Eastern and Aboriginal gangs, all the while trying to stay alive for the sake of his loving fiancé Kelly (Millie Rose Heywood), who also becomes involved in the mind games of the sadistic warden.
It’s refreshing to watch a gritty film about jail in Australia as well as the cultural and personal conflict that is prevalent in these institutions. By exploring the themes of crime, gangs, corruption and abuse, Convict is far from the typical jail films of the current time and leaves you as Shawshank Redemption leaves audiences. Unfortunately the first few minutes play out like a poorly scripted soap opera, before the film turns to the complication at hand and poses questions to the audience about politics and brutality when in incarceration.
Basha is fantastic in the role of Ray and the screenwriting here is both original and thought provoking, albeit prone to some stereotypes. Ray’s struggle with the negativity and brutality around him, and keeping with his own moral compass is interesting to watch as there are both moments of triumph and weakness for the tragic character. Field is also good in the role of the warden but comes off as a bit too stereotypically bad and unfortunately Basha’s writing doesn’t give much dimension to the otherwise superb Field. Richard Green is unforgettable as David, the prison librarian who becomes a friend to the disheartened Ray and Johnny Nasser is a standout as the ruthless inmate Mazen, both intimidating and obsessed with revenge.
Convict does, as with most films, fall into the hands of conventions and archetypes that impede the excellence of the final product. It’s familiar tale of an innocent protagonist battling against vengeful inmates, malicious prison guards and a corrupt warden means the film becomes a typical jail movie half way through. But the script by Basha also allows for a sense of empathy and its comments on racial divisions and gang cultures in prison are fresh from the same old “good guy, bad guy” tropes. If this were about any average Australian white male, the film wouldn’t be as intriguing.
Luckily the film goes down to basics and builds up from there, clearing the notions of good and evil for a more sophisticated investigation into the dehumanizing nature of prison life, jail abuse and inherent racism in these kind of institutions. The defunct Parramatta Jail is a great location for the film and provides an accurate sense of entrapment, while the inclusion of ex-prisoners in the filming process makes the film plausible and horribly believable.
Convict possesses a gritty rawness that is exactly what is necessary for a truthful portrayal of the cruel walls of prison life. While it’s violence and intensity may be confronting to some viewers, the film’s tale of Ray and his tribulations should be a reminder of personal strength as well as bring to light the gripping reality behind the bars of jail.
Originally published on CelebrityOZ, January 20, 2014.
Watch the trailer for Convict below: