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Cactus - Anchor Bay Entertainment Print E-mail
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Written by Ray Casta   
Sunday, 01 May 2011
Severed Cinema DVD Review

Cactus DVD Cover Art on Severed Cinema
Buy Cactus on DVD from Amazon.com Buy Cactus on DVD from Amazon.ca

Directed by: Jasmine Yuen Carrucan
Written by: Jasmine Yuen Carrucan
Produced by: Paul Sullivan
Cinematography by: Florian Emmerich
Music by: Nerida Tyson-Chew
Cast: Travis McMahon, David Lyons, Bryan Brown, Shane Jacobson, Zoe Tuckwell-Smith, Daniel Krige, Celia Ireland
Year: 2008
Country: Australia
Language: English
Color: Color
Runtime: 89 minutes

Distributor: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Official Website: Cactus
 

Over the past decade, Australia has solidified its mark on crime cinema.  Here is Jasmine Yuen Carrucan's "Cactus," a well crafted crime thriller that isn't about style over substance: It's about the characters.  The film strongly establishes itself as a fierce and demanding one the moment it fades in to its opening sequence.  In the middle of the night, a man is chasing another man out of his house, bullies him down an alley way and roughs him up.  He throws him into the back of his car where he jabs him with a syringe that incapacitates him.  Not a full two minutes in, viewers know exactly what type of film "Cactus" will be.

Essentially a kidnapping thriller mixed with a road movie, "Cactus" is minimalist and sparse.  It follows the abduction of professional gambler Eli Jones (David Lyons) by John Kelly (Travis McMahon), who was hired to carry out the job.  When Eli awakens from his drug-induced anaesthesia, he has no idea what is going on.  Taken out of the trunk and thrown in the backseat, Eli is tied with duct tape and subdued to the seat.  Freaking out and panicking, Eli doesn't know where he is exactly, who John is, or why he is doing this to him.  He suspects he had an affair with his wife, but John assures him it is not about that, and he never will meet his wife.  After an unsuccessful escape attempt early on, Eli soon realizes he is no match for John.

For a diminutive film like "Cactus," the performances drive the story home.  As John, the kidnapper for hire, Travis McMahon delivers a fantastic performance.  He has a quiet intensity about him that lies behind his passive eyes.  Yet there is something about his character that suggests he has no choice to do what he's doing.  Or, does he?  There is a subtle scene where he imagines his wife and child in the backseat, and his face epitomizes a man who loves his family and he'd do anything for them.  John is bitter and sometimes harsh, but he is never overly callous to his captive.  His performance is just the perfect match to David Lyons, who plays the role of the captive with sharp certitude and credibility.  Both of the actors have grand chemistry with each other, and the film is basically their show.  Supporting cast includes an epigrammatic Bryan Brown as a local cop, and Shane Jacobson appears as a truck driver.

Travelling throughout the Australian outback, the abduction was supposed to be very simple.  Things do not go as planned.  Eli and John strike up a relationship with each other, and "Cactus" succeeds as a study of human nature.  The theme of man reaching a state of destitution is paired with the theme of luck, and the exigency of the circumstance makes for edgy, brazen entertainment.  Eli is a gambler, and he tells John he lives off the bets he makes.  John considers himself unlucky and he doesn't understand how Eli does it.  In a way, he is making a larger gamble than Eli ever could.  An impressive thing about "Cactus" is how it unfolds.  As viewers, we do not know anything about the characters from the outset yet as the film unfolds, the characterization is delineated.

Shot by Florian Emmerich, the arresting visual landscape and extensive locale of "Cactus" is widely representative of the characters: desolation and hopelessness.  As the title of the film, the term "cactus" is Australian slang for "dead, not functioning."  The title also refers to the characters, and the predicament they are in.  "Cactus" is like 2004's "The Clearing" (starring Robert Redford and Willem Dafoe), in the way it is a kidnapping thriller about captor and captive and the journey they embark on.  If audiences have trouble feeling empathizing with the characters -- or if they're not interested in them at all -- the film would not work properly.  By the end, there is a narrative issue that is left too ambiguous, and viewers may have an issue with questions left unanswered.  There is a disappointing moment later in the film where it seems as if the screenplay plays it safe to seemingly get a character "off the hook."  Jasmine Yuen Carrucan's directorial debut is very direct, as it's about characters.  Her effort may be imperfect, but it's engaging and honest.

Anchor Bay Entertainment brings "Cactus" on DVD with a fine 2.35:1 transfer.  Special features include a terrific "Making Of" featurette.  Running for roughly 30 minutes, the feature broadly goes into the transition from script to screen.  The cast and crew are interviewed, and Jasmine Yuen Carrucan is very passionate about the film.  People who are interested in the making of a film production will certainly want to watch this featurette.  I found it impressive how Jasmine Yuen Carrucan, a female filmmaker made her debut with a story, solely featuring a male cast.  She has a commanding presence and she did a commendable job with "Cactus."  A director's commentary is also included, as well as a trailer for the movie.  If you are a fan of Australian cinema, crime thrillers and character dramas, "Cactus" is worth a look.

Cactus DVD Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

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Cactus DVD Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

Cactus DVD Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

Cactus DVD Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

Cactus DVD Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

Cactus DVD Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

Cactus DVD Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

Cactus DVD Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

Cactus DVD Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

Cactus DVD Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

Cactus DVD Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

Cactus DVD Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

Cactus DVD Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

Cactus DVD Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

Cactus DVD Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

Cactus DVD Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

Cactus DVD Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

Cactus DVD Screenshot Image on Severed Cinema

 RATING:
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 AUDIO: 1 
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 DVD: 1 
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 MOVIE: 1 
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 DVD SPECS:
 Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1, 16x9 Widescreen
 Region: NTSC 0
 Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0


 SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIAL:
 - Director Commentary
 - The Making of "Cactus"
 - "Cactus" Trailer

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