High Ground is part of the rarely seen Kangaroo Western genre. The term refers to Western-style films set in the Australian outback. It is similar to how similar movies from Italy are referred to as Spaghetti Westerns.
The Australian revenge thriller is more than an attempt at copying an American cowboy movie, however. Inspired by real events, High Ground begins in 1919. Following a bloody massacre, Travis (Simon Baker) ends up leaving the police. When he is recruited to bring down one of the survivors of the attack, he must face the past he left behind.
High Ground has to walk a very tenuous line. Stories like these can easily fall into the white savior trap. Director Stephen Maxwell Johnson also has the responsibility of treating Aboriginal culture with respect. This is especially difficult here since there are so many characters.
He is able to do both ably. Johnson spent years earning the trust of the indigenous communities featured in High Ground. This attention to detail and time spent building relationships is evident throughout the film. Outside of documentaries, few features have done a better job of presenting Aboriginal culture.
High Ground is a visually impressive movie. While there is plenty of green, it is the yellows and browns that really stand out. This is not a case of looking good by default. Johnson gets the most out of the camera.
The story is not as action packed as the synopsis may suggest, but it is perfectly paced. There is a natural tension to the story that is captivating. High Ground is a strong character driven film. There are some flaws (Eddy is a run of the mill racist), but nothing that negatively impacts the movie.
High Ground constantly defies expectations. It is never content to rely on its picturesque setting or genre tropes. The narrative will draw audiences in and keep them engaged. The well written characters also make the film enjoyable.
High Ground comes to on demand and digital May 14
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