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Evil Angels

Year: 1988
Production Co: Cannon Entertainment
Director: Fred Schepisi
Writer: Fred Schepisi/John Bryson
Cast: Meryl Streep, Sam Neill, Charles Bud Tingwell, Frankie J Holden, Deborah-Lee Furness, Warwick Moss, Ian MacFadyen, Glenn Robbins, KIm Gyngell
Spoiler
Spoiler!

The first thing that will strike you about this film is how dated it is. Not because it was set in the late 70s but because it was shot in the late 80s. The fashions (Sam Neill as Michael Chamberlain in knee high socks and smart shorts) and the window dressing is appropriate to the time, but the sense of movement, the 'flavour' of the drama doesn't stand up to a modern viewing.

Without the then-high profile presence of Meryl Streep as Lindy, the style would have been indistinguishable from other Australian films that are dated as soon as they come out, like schlocky horror film Blood Moon.

If you were born in Australia before 1980 you know the story backwards – as the movie itself says, it was the most controversial criminal case in most of our living memories. It broke the national banks of cultural consciousness and even still you can visit almost any corner of the world, say 'a dingo took my baby' and they'll know just what you're talking about.

Yet for all the critical brouhaha that surrounded Streep's portrayal of Lindy, most of her 'acting' was channeled into the single scene that also became the cornerstone of the trailer ('we're talking about my baby daughter… not some object!'). Then again maybe that's the point, Streep immersing herself in Lindy so fully and coming as close to a perfect Australian accent as any American actor ever has you can't see the acting.

It's 1979 and the young Seventh Day Adventist Chamberlain family is camping near the foot of Uluru when Lindy returns to check of baby Azaria in the family tent and surprises a dingo, which runs off. When Lindy reaches the tent Azaria is gone, prompting a panicked search for the animal who's presumably taken her.

The film does as a good job as it can of distilling down the ensuing years of speculation, court cases, media appearances and polarised public opinion. The between-scene breaks of people in everyday situations arguing over Lindy and Michael's guilt are kind of amateurish, but it's worth watching for what's likely to be the best chance we'll ever have of seeing the story from the inside out.

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