Justin Kurzel’s explorations of masculinity in crisis continue with a drama loosely based on the events leading to the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania, Australia – notably on the behaviour of its perpetrator. As with many recent projects on serial killers and killings, the case for making Nitram is fraught. However, Kurzel’s lens and vision are more concerned with uncomfortable questions, half-formed motives, and a cautious sympathy without condoning than it is with the violence and deaths. Like Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, it scrubs details from names and places (‘Nitram’ is ‘Martin’ backwards – a nod to history’s perpetrator without direct biographical representation). Unlike Elephant, Kurzel leaves the shootings themselves to the imagination, cutting from Nitram’s uneasy bowl of soup at a lakeside cafe to a news broadcast and a grieving mother. This is perhaps the most responsible film one can make of a senseless tragedy of this scale.

Caleb Landry Jones’ famous gangly frame hardens at odds with the world around him. He is not so erratic as he is determined in every action, showing Nitram’s inability to engage with his parents (even the pettiest confrontations are unbearably tense, as everyone seeks connection yet no one seeks a middle ground), former school friends, and children he tries to share his joy of firecrackers with (a scene fraught with danger yet retaining some innocence). As the quiet outsider who finds kinship with Nitram, Essie Davis gives a fragile, dreamlike performance. Her chemistry with Jones convinces each other’s characters while showing cracks to the audience. 

Nitram is a difficult watch, and perhaps not a necessary one, but Kurzel and Jones create a compelling character study that never glorifies or begs excuses. While the tragedy led to sweeping gun reform in Australia, the film ends with a stark reminder that history can repeat itself. 



CAST: Caleb Landry Jones, Judy Davis, Essie Davis, Anthony LaPaglia

DIRECTOR: Justin Kurzel 

WRITER: Shaun Grant 

SYNOPSIS: Loosely based on the perpetrator of the Port Arthur massacre, Nitram follows a disturbed young man and the events that shaped and enabled his actions.