Justin Kurzel’s Nitram is an echo of his 2011 breakthrough film Snowtown, which also featured a dissection of the Australian ’90s and was named by The New York Times as one of Australia’s best films since 1992. Kurzel’s impressive career has him returning to the genre he is best known for, but this time around there is more confidence and mastery in his tone. He delivers an entirely different film that will stick with you long after it ends because of how disturbing yet rewarding it can be at times as well!
“Nitram” is more than just an explanation of the motives behind a mass shooting. It’s also a character study, an exploration of a man who feels like he has no other options left and believes that violence is the only way to get people to take notice. By delving into this man’s psyche, the film tries to understand why he made the decisions he did and what could have possibly been done to prevent this tragedy.
Release date: March 30, 2022 (USA)
Director: Justin Kurzel
Nominations: Cannes Best Actor Award, MORE
Screenplay: Shaun Grant
Awards: Cannes Best Actor Award, AACTA Award for Best Film, MORE
Distributed by: Madman Entertainment
In the film, there is a scene where the title character violently attacks his father who has been in a state of depression. When asked why he did that, the character replied “That’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s what you do.” This scene is a rare but chilling study of the mindset of some people who see violence not as a line that cannot be crossed, but as a way to trigger a response. It’s what you do, especially when you have nothing else to do.
Caleb Landry Jones shines as the title character, a man-child known simply to some in his community by Nitram. intellectual disabled and wandering around on foot with no sense of direction or purpose at all; it’s an incredible performance that makes you feel for this lost little guy right away!
He’s a pretty big shot, this guy. You know he has the power to make everyone around him feel special with just one glance in their direction? Well not only does he have an amazing personality and tons of charm but also lights fireworks in the daytime for some reason… And sometimes gives them away as gifts! To local school children no less?! What kind Of living legend are you anyway?
Recently, Dad was approved for a bank loan to purchase a bed and breakfast – something he’s been wanting to do for a while now. Mom, on the other hand, is exhausted from constantly living in uncertainty and fear about the level of danger that someone living in her own house poses. At first, “Nitram” seems like another story about the difficulties of raising someone who is teetering on the edge of instability. However, Jones and Kurzel don’t explore the “growing sociopath” aspect of Nitram in an overt way, instead choosing to capture the sadness and apathy that can lead to dangerous thinking.
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When Nitram meets Helen, a wealthy former actress who appears to be lost in her own thoughts and feelings she too carries an unfulfilled life. Though these two strangers can not help but bring out the best in each other by being there for what they need when it’s needed most a relationship begins that will change both their worlds forever!
Helen purchases a car for him without even considering that he doesn’t have any driving experience, but eventually moves in with Helen and her family. His parent is surprised by the relationship as they weren’t sure if she was looking to marry or produce an army of son replacements (depending on how you look at it).
Nitram’s new BFFs each end in their own separately tragic fashions, pushing him further down the road to what would be a historic decision made back on April 1996 when he shot almost three dozen people leading up to some great gun laws that are still present today.
The cinematography in this film by German director Christian Alvart (Nitram) beautifully captures a sense of tension and dread through a shot composition that is punctuated with tight shots showing bees on an eave or long views tracking Nitram as he walks through Helen’s crumbling estate.
There’s something unsettling about every frame of “Nitram” that never calls attention to itself but allows the film’s consistent tone to get under your skin. It has striking directorial confidence and trust in Caleb Landry Jones for him to nail this very difficult part and he does so beautifully!
Nitram could have easily been played as a series of tics and melodramatic quirks, but Jones and Kurzel understand that there’s something more truly terrifying about an emotionless stare than an explosive breakdown. There’s not so much torment behind Nitram’s eyes as there is a total absence of anything behind Nitram’s eyes.
His mother tells a story about a young Nitram taking pleasure in a moment in which she was terrified and it’s one of the few moments that Shaun Grant’s script edges closer to explaining why he became a murderer. He was always emotionally empty and completely devoid of empathy. Instead of resorting to a showy caricature, Jones nails that emptiness, and that’s much more mesmerizing, and sadly believable. Sociopaths often hide in plain sight.
“Nitram” is a story of a man who can’t handle change and who is constantly put into chaotic situations, such as the mental anguish that comes with deep sadness. We’ve seen many movies that try to show why people might do terrible things, but “Nitram” neither vilifies nor sympathizes with its protagonist, instead simply asking us to spend time with this troubled young man and hope that nobody like him lives nearby.