Writer/director Dee McLachlan's edgy expose on foreign sex slaves in Melbourne is a fast, arresting and hard-hitting film boostered by exceptional performances and a tightly honed screenplay.
REVIEW BY LUKE BUCKMASTER
Cast: Emma Lung, Veronica Sywak, Saskia Burmeister, Sun Park, Amanda Ma, Andrew S. Gilbert, Alison Whyte, Debra Lawrence, Damien Richardson, Kate Atkinson, Todd MacDonald, Masa YamaguchiDirector: Dee McLachlan Screenplay: Dee McLachlan Cinematography: Peter Falk Music: Grant Innes McLachlan Australian theatrical release date: August 16 (Melbourne), August 30 (national) 2007
It could just as well have been called The Damned. Writer/director Dee McLachlan's edgy expose on foreign sex slaves in Melbourne lock and loads a hot topic largely shirked by the media, using several powerful performances and a tightly honed script to pump it full of knife-edge, gut-based, flesh-for-sale, street curb realism.
Inspired by actual court transcripts, McLachlan's direction takes on the fatalistic perspective of a court room stenographer: matter-of-fact, a-to-b, no place for didacticism, no room to get preachy. The Jammed comes on hard and fast and McLachlan shoots for a hybrid of social realist, thriller and investigatory drama. The scope is tight and narrow so there is no room for her, or the audience, or the characters, to budge. But McLachlan also carves out a tiny aperture of light from which the darkness is momentarily illuminated. It's a pin point beam to that rank alternate reality on the Other Side - the underbelly, the bizarro world, the wrong side of the looking glass. It is a place, dare I say it, that we sometimes visit in the movies. McLachlan wants major city audiences to understand that this place is more or less in front of our eyes.
It is through the character of preoccupied career woman Ashley (Veronica Sywak) that general society peeks through the shades. When picking up a friend of a friend from the airport Ashley agrees to give a random woman, Sunee (Amanda Ma), a ride to the city. She quickly discovers Sunee is from China and trying to locate her missing daughter Rubi (Sun Park). There is nobody else to help, so Ashley agrees to have her phone number printed on missing person posters and vola - one night she gets a phone call. The story switches between Ashley in reluctant Nancy Drew mode and three foreigners caught in an inextricable rut of prostitution and illegal citizenship: Rubi, Crystal (Emma Lung) and Vanya (Saskia Burmeister). If they go to the police they get deported. If they don't, they wave their rights as well as their bodies. The story's harsh grasp of reality boxes them in at every turn; with no ins or outs in sight, The Jammed is a title that rings true.
Rarely does an Australian film - or any film - exhibit such a strong line-up of young, fresh-faced female performances. Fresh-faced is not a literal summation of the downtrodden, woebegone, makeup-stained, shabbily clothed appearances of Park, Lung and Burmeister, all of whom are totally convincing as real people dehumanised into rag dolls and live stock. Veronica Sywak is a perfect fit as the level-headed, middle-of-the-road, this-could-be-you incidental hero, a role that strings the cast together and cross-examines the audience with that simple, timeless hypothetical: how would we act? Sywak segues smoothly from nonchalance to gusto as the stakes of the story rise like tempers around a poker table.
Every exceptional performance in this film comes from a female, though McLachlan ascertains with savage lucidity that this is a "man's world" - codename for barbaric and brutal. That these women are not held captive by literal chains is a powerful reminder that the shackles of slavery come in many forms. It is rare for a female writer/director to capture male chauvinism with such meat hook authenticity (without overdoing it), just as it is rare for a male writer/director to paint female characters as impressionably as they are here. McLachlan understands both sides of the gender fence better than most, an understanding no doubt partly obtained by her personal experiences - when Dee McLachlan directed her last film, The Second Jungle Book (1997), she was in fact Duncan McLachlan, though that's not entirely relevant here. What is relevant – tremendously so - is the film itself. The Jammed is a fast, thudding, ultra-timely expose, a bucket of icy cold water thrown on the groggy, ambivalent face of public conscience.
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