THREE STARS A Melbourne courier takes his son to work on the day he's obliged to settle some serious debt.
Damian Hill, Ty Perham
A Melbourne Dad gets a day-course in parenting with unintended results. This unassuming first feature from writer-director Jason Raftopolous has a lot going for it. What it lacks in box office clout (don’t expect long queues at your local cineplex), it makes up for with a full heart and a genuine sense of place. His Melbourne is a familiar one that underscores and makes tangible the emotional resonance of the story.
Being west of the suburb of Sunshine is shorthand for being lost, a place that Jim (Damian Hill) inhabits all too well. A gambling problem has left him indebted, separated from his family and too reliant on the meagre income from his job as a courier. His estranged wife leaves their son Alex in his care (school holidays) on the day he must stump up serious cash to an almost (but not quite) sympathetic money lender. Jim does what he does best - bets on the horses and turns petty cash into a windfall. Then he does what he always does, looses it all on the next race.
WEST OF SUNSHINE takes place over a day and has all the usual beats and tropes of its genre when gambling turns to urgent drug dealing. Where it earns respect is by keeping gangland violence a distant beat so Raftopolous can concentrate on bringing father-and-son dynamics centre screen. There’s a sense that this is drawn from the personal and accordingly, it remains a tangible, engaging experience. Jim’s desire not to become his own father, to do better than his father, propels the narrative while Raftopolous fills the background with the intimate experience of a Melbourne he knows well.
By the time the account has been settled, Jim and Alex have recast their relationship: it’s amazing what you can do in a day if you set your mind to it. Although a relentlessly intrusive score by Lisa Gerrard makes the second half of WEST OF SUNSHINE harder than it needs to be, it remains a rewarding film that establishes its writer-director as a talent to keep an eye upon.