WESTERN, 1hr 56min (English, Badimaya, Pashto, Punjabi and Cantonese with subtitles)
STARRING: David Wenham, Ahmed Malek
When the camel steals your shot: Wenham
The West Australian outback of 1897 is hard-baked and far from home for Muslim cameleer Hanif (Malek), a fundamentally grounded man drifting from his moral compass. Only its Indigenous tribesmen seem fully alive and connected; to the injured bushranger (Wenham as Mal) who Hanif falls in with from a misguided sense of obligation, all that matters is the far horizon. Mal is carrying a small fortune in stolen Crown gold bars, and Hanif, disowned by his Indigenous protectors because of this “yellow rock,” wants in on its profits and out of his tinderbox hell.
But where the yellow rock surfaces, trouble is sure to follow. In his fool’s errand to reach the town of Kalgoorlie and have the stash melted down, Mal is on the run from both sides of the law. Factor in that infernal heat, the capriciousness of the camel, Mal’s inconvenient opium habit and a rollout of unappetising characters, each of them less likeable than the one before, and writer-director Roderick Mackay’s desert western is a scorching blunt instrument. A shaggy, dyspeptic Wenham and an expressively miserable Malek are the sort of last-ditch mismatch that only happens, in fact as in fiction, when everything is already lost. In that sense, this damnable shared journey is one of realisation, and for Hanif, at least, a final understanding of where he now essentially belongs.