LINE OF FIRE (aka DARKLANDS) – Review by Nadine Whitney

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It is sometimes said that Australia is not known for genre films. While drama does seem to be the predominant form in Australian cinema, it is far from all the country does. One genre Australia certainly has plenty of is crime stories. The best Australian crime films remember something essential – their setting. It is disappointing to note that Scott Major’s Line of Fire is an Americanised piece of work that stretches reality, not so much in its psychology, but in the simple fact that if the events in the film really did play out in Australia none of what he and writer Christopher Gist created would make sense outside its closed diegetic world.

Samantha Romans (Nadine Garner) is a police officer and single mother living in a regional town called Moondan Hills. Sam is called out to investigate a possible break in at the local high school where her son, Tim (Texas Watterson) is a senior. Just as she’s heading back to her car all hell breaks loose as the unimaginable happens – there is an active shooter at the school. Sam freezes in fear and doesn’t apprehend the shooter. Over twenty lives, including Tim’s are lost.

Sam goes into dissociative grieving. Her Sergeant (Nicholas Coghlan) assures he that the force will have her back and sends her to some mandated therapy where we learn Sam has had some pretty significant issues in the past (enough perhaps to make the audience wonder how she passed psychological evaluation). Under leave from the police force and a town pariah whose house is the site of drive by abuse from angry locals, Sam just needs to grieve in peace. However, when a determined ex-journalist now blogger, Jamie Connard (Samantha Toij) gets wind of the story she decides that getting Sam to talk will be her big come back and payday, and she will do almost anything to make that happen.

Despite protestations from her husband, Greg (Brett Cousins), Jamie puts Sam through a relentless campaign of harassment which includes consistently calling her, cyber bullying her, using emotional manipulation, and sending Sam an autopsy picture of Tim. Jamie feels no guilt over her tactics, and indeed seems to get a perverse pleasure through how far she will go to get a story and legitimise herself as a journalist once again.

Sam’s mental state, already extremely fragile, cannot cope with Jamie’s onslaught and she snaps, leading to a horrific cat and mouse game where Jamie becomes her bait.

What follows is an edgy and over-the-top action film which relies on truly suspending all disbelief. In the space of one night Sam drags Jamie to hell and gets her to “really see” what it is like being her. The film could be viewed as a morality play, but that would be a generous interpretation of what it is, action exploitation.

Although Nadine Garner gives a solid performance her character is written in a ludicrous manner. Garner does her best to give Sam the requisite emotional and action beats, but the likelihood of Sam being someone who could actually exist is nominal at best. What is more unbelievable is that a mass school shooting in Australia would only attract only one unscrupulous journalist. Anyone who knows anything about Australia knows the strict gun laws here and how a mass shooting would dominate the news cycle for weeks. Sam would be swamped with reporters and certainly the police force and courts would sequester her away from the public. What would stretch credibility in an American film has zero credibility in an Australian one.

Line of Fire can be tense but it too often tawdry. Scott Majors and cinematographer Dan Maxwell add some clever flourishes by substituting phone conversations for abstract interactions between the leads as Sam draws Jamie closer to the edge of losing her sanity, just as Sam herself has. The film could have been more successful if it worked as a piece of psychological warfare that had a more realistic set up.

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Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney is a seasoned film critic and scholar. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Nadine contributes regularly to FILMINK, The Curb, and Mr Movies Film Blog. She holds a degree in cinema theory and cultural studies. Her specialty is surrealism in cinema. She is as passionate about cats as she is about film. She is co-chair of the Australian Film Critics Association and a member of FIPRESCI.