Nitram is devastatingly cruel in the exploration of Australia’s first mass shooter and refreshingly honest in the horrors of this character’s worldview. Caleb Landry Jones as the dejected, irrational, and completely broken soul is on full display and the depiction of this hateful figure where this type of violent outrage feels somehow inevitable, but the direction and the performances hide the sickly underbelly with shades of his humanity and how it gets stripped from him. It is in no way justifies his actions, as he’s painted as one who provokes violence and pain. He’s shown to have this streak of hatred embedded in him from a young age, and the truth of his nurturing parentage displays something deeper than trauma or depression, but something undenounced to even Nitram’s character.
The introduction of Helen (Essie Davis) into his life is such a monumental experience. It seems inconsequential, but it gives his life some joy to latch onto and Davis, as the reclusive heiress living with many cats and dogs, gives an eccentric, fundamentally pure performance and makes a massive difference on his arc in such a short amount of time. The chemistry between Essie and Landry Jones is uncanny, as both settle into this unorthodox arrangement and live out their lives in a sort of fantasy world. Her arc is absolutely devastating and leaves a strong imprint on the film.
The other element that makes Nitram such an unnerving film is the presence of Judy Davis and her constant fear of what could happen. She sees Nitram with as much love imaginable, but can’t quite get through to his deadened eyes. She’s also apathetic. As if she’s reached the end of her rope, unable to help her son battle these demons. The moments Nitram begins to scream uncontrollably are so extraordinarily visceral and tell a story in his pain. The performances are incredible and Caleb Landry Jones isn’t a caricature. He’s a living, breathing person capable of feeling love, but also unmoved and oftentimes disconnected from everything around him. When he’s in public and tunes out the outside world, he shows a severe hurting and lack of control of his mind. From my own experience, people of a sociopathic nature act in these unexplainable ways that are entirely troubling.
The Justin Kurzel direction steeps you in the trauma of Nitram. It places you in the heart of the storm. Forcing the audience to grapple with every horrific moment that leads to his explosion of murderous violence. It’s a truly complicated look at someone who can’t understand his urges and points to his backdoor access to guns being the main catalyst for this tragedy. It makes no mistake about the fact that the guns enabled him to commit these murders on a much larger scale. It also shows he was calculated and still holding on to a shred of love for his family by the end. It’s impossible to understand the nature of his motivations, but it shows these creeping idealistic societal pressures that cast someone like Nitram completely on his own. It doesn’t want one to sympathize with his pain but shows that a villainous mass murderer is capable of human emotion and years to be free of this nail of pain that leaves a constant reminder.
I don’t know what else to say, the film floored me from start to finish. It’s edited in a way that leaves the film in a spiraling, disconnected structure, unable to account for the days or his location. It’s a phenomenal character piece and one handled with such carefulness. The details in the performances capture the scope of the situation and these characters. The best film on the subject of mass shootings doesn’t rely heavily on shock value to relay the underlying importance of the film’s central message. Caleb Landry Jones was truly stunning and immersed me inside his fragile, confused perspective.
★★★★½ (92)/ out of 5★’s