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The Last Wave

Year: 1977
Production Co: Australian Film Commission
Director: Peter Weir
Producer: Hal McElroy
Writer: Peter Weir/Tony Morphett/Petru Popescu
Cast: Richard Chamberlain, David Gulpilil

Sydney lawyer David (Chamberlain) tries to help five aboriginal youths after they're suspected of killing one of their tribe in a ritualised murder for disturbing an important cultural artifact, but they're not talking.

As he hits the trail to figure out what really happened he plunges into a shadowy underworld of dreamtime magic and mystery and learns of a prophesy about a giant wave that's coming to wipe the Australian continent clean. The wave will be preceded by endless days of rain and strange weather, phenomena Sydney's suffering throughout the movie and which seems to indicate that time is running out.

A modern thriller director and CGI aficionado would have science boffins running back and forth advising military commanders, pre-strike tremors knocking over buildings and similar CGI money shots before the final devastation we've seen everywhere from Deep Impact to Poseidon.

Weir isn't the least bit interested in an adventure movie. This is a dark, brooding drama about the collision between traditional tribal beliefs and modern city life in Australia, with a heavy dose of eerie staging thrown in. It's so hard to absorb you're never really sure what it's about or what Weir or his co-writers had to say.

It's easy to look derisively back on the practice of casting big name Brit or American actors in local productions 30 years later, but the fact is there were simply no internationally marketable Australian actors. Without Chamberlain playing a strangely well-spoken Australian, it probably wouldn't have got any financial backing.

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