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  • Colin Fraser


FOUR STARS More than art is explored in this gruelling biopic about celebrated Australian painter Adam Cullen.


Starring Toby Wallace, Daniel Henshall

It’s fascinating how Australia champions the wrong kind: Ned Kelly, Chopper Read and here, artist Adam Cullen. Not that this extraordinary biopic from first time helmer Thomas M Wright celebrates Cullen; instead Wright uses his brush with fame as a springboard to pose a question. Why do we become so fascinated by troubled men and place them, rather than their deeds, foremost in the discourse? In short, why do we celebrate losers?

Briefly the darling of Australia’s art world (Cullen won the 2000 Archibald Prize for his portrait of David Wenham), the artist succumbed to drink, drugs, mental health issues and a fondness for guns. He was dead before his 47th birthday. Not long after the Archibald win, he met 19 year old journalist Erik Jensen and commissioned him to write his biography. Sensing opportunity and drawn by the eccentric artist, Jensen became an intimate who quickly understood that the roos were loose. Among many things, Cullen lived in a pigsty, was a serial liar (there was no publishing deal, much less a commission), and was a man whose addictions were self-destructive at best. Yet he was also a rare talent with a potential for greatness. Jensen stuck it out.

Wright and Jensen adapted his memoir to create a sensationally haunting film that is stronger because there’s so little reverence for their subject. This isn’t really a story about the tortured artist per POLLOCK or AT ETERNITY’S GATE (Cullen’s work hardly features during the taut, 90 minute run time) but one about the tortured soul. And by shifting focus, Wright is able to explore why we are so willing to ignore (and forgive) the sins of the celebrated. It’s a fascinating question.

Neighbour’s graduate Toby Wallace is compelling as Jensen and a terrific foil for Daniel Henshall (SNOWTOWN) whose note-perfect performance works Cullen’s moody, endearing and dangerous parts into a believably threatening whole. Lyrical cinematography from Stefan Duscio and Germain McMicking (HOLDING THE MAN) seals the deal. For better or worse (better, mostly), ACUTE MISFORTUNE is the kind of film that takes up residence inside your head. It's one of the best bio-pics since CHOPPER and certainly one of the best Australian films in years.

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