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Tomorrow, When the War Began

Year: 2010
Production Co: Ambience Entertainment
Director: Stuart Beattie
Writer: Stuart Beattie
Cast: Caitlin Stasey, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Lincoln Lewis, Deniz Akdeniz, Phoebe Tonkin, Chris Pang, Ashleigh Cummings

Like a lot of other people I was really excited to read John Marsden's action/adventure series was coming to the big screen, firstly because the books were so good but also because it was homecoming of sorts for a successful Australian son. Screenwriter Stuart Beattie is a true Hollywood A-lister after his work on the Pirates of the Caribbean series, 30 Days of Night and Australia (though I'd have taken my name straight off GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra).

And he gets it mostly right. The characters are there mostly the way we imagine them, and even though the running time obviously can't include everything in the book, the movie manages to grasp the arc, from the innocence of the camping trip to the thrills and action of the war when it descends and the kids decide to become semi-urban guerillas.

Having said that it's far from perfect. As much as I wanted to love it, I think local backers with stars in their eyes about Beattie gave him too much control. It's a good calling card, but there are too many holes for him to be a good director.

But before I list them, let me make a disclaimer – I love movies with realistic dialogue and performance. That's just me. The film was no doubt exactly the way Beattie wanted and the audience seemed to like it that way too.

To start with, there's a lot of misplaced humour. I know a lot of people like that (and everyone laughed at the appropriate moments), but it seemed to veer too far away from the premise. Maybe it was because Beattie felt it was essentially a kids film, but I would have loved to see it done darker and grittier, not The Saddle Club meets Red Dawn .

Second, after the buzz about the hot young cast, the acting was like something out of a weekend amateur dramatic society. I got the feeling most of these kids were trained in theatre and TV (like Phoebe Tonkin, who plays Fiona after playing one of the teenage mermaids in H20) – their delivery was way too classical and forceful for most of their scenes. A script full of unrealistic dialogue didn't help.

The movie was certainly a roller coaster ride, and the action and adventure scenes stood up against anything rich American studios can produce. It just faltered badly when the action stopped and it had to rely on words and actors. Some cack-handed symbolism was also brushed over the top like icing on cake.

So once again an Australian movie showcases the breadth of talent on offer in this country – this time unfortunately, most of it's behind the camera. I would love to be a fly on the wall of John Marsden's office after he watches it.

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