Bordertown (1995)
Review by Doc Ezra

Written by John Alsop and Sue Smith
Directed by Ken Cameron and Ian Gilmour
Starring Mitchell Butel, Linda Cropper, Petru Gheorghiu, Kim Hillas, Melita Jurisic, Norman Kaye, Alex Menglet, Geoff Morrell, Joe Petruzzi, Christine Tremarco, Hugo Weaving, and Cate Blanchett.


Rating: Suggested for mature audiences

Anamorphic: N/A

My Advice: Buy it.

The 9-hour television epic that is Bordertown can be a bit daunting for the casual viewer at first. The length alone is enough to send most people screaming to their local megaplex for whatever passes for quality filmmaking these days. Add to that a couple of big name actors and a storyline that promises huge depth of character and narrative, but very little in the way of short-attention-span theatrics, and it takes a dedicated cinephile to even put this one in the player.

The bold will be rewarded, however, with a truly magnificent series. In a mere ten episodes, the series develops the tiny dust-blasted Australian town of Baringa, shortly after the end of World War II. People are flocking to Baringa for work from all over the world, and the cast of local characters quickly becomes difficult to keep up with, including immigrants from Italy, the Netherlands, and England, just to name a few. With such a diverse set of backgrounds, cultural conflicts abound, and it is up the long-suffering officials of the company that contracted with all these people to hash out the differences and prevent bloodshed at the company store.

The stories told about these individuals run the gamut of emotional impact from high comedy to deep sorrow. While the episodes generally stand alone, there are some subplots that play out in the background of multiple episodes (the relationship between Giuseppe and his autistic younger brother comes to mind). There are deaths and births, bitter rivals becoming close friends, and the ever-present conflict of these people with the unforgiving environment of isolated Australian countryside. I can't say enough about the writing on the show - it's phenomenal, and representative of the best the format has to offer.

The acting is, across the board, absolutely first rate. Coming into the series blind, I expected Blanchett and Weaving to really be the ones carrying the load, but there are so many excellent performances that the two of them don't really chew up scenery the way one might expect. A real treat was seeing that Hugo Weaving actually has an excellent sense of humor and pretty solid comedic timing, to boot. A bit disconcerting coming from Agent Smith/Elrond, but what the hey. The production values are likewise high, with a complete mock-up of the town of Baringa used for all exteriors, and the interiors give the impression of being hastily-assembled structures plopped down by the employment company to house the sudden influx of workers.

The DVD set (three volumes) is nice, with an excellent video transfer and clear sound (though when some of the native Aussies cut loose at full speed, it can be a bit tricky to follow, depending on how familiar one is with said accent). Extras are a bit minimal, but with a feature like Bordertown, any extras whatsoever are simply icing on the cake. I'd have liked to hear about the production itself, or listened to Blanchett and Weaving's thoughts on the project (as the two most recognizable stars of the series, they'd be natural choices).

So, pick this one up and see how they do it down under when it comes to quality dramatic television with heart.

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