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Therefore, the unforgettable incident of April 1996 where Tasmania’s popular Port Arthur tourist site experienced a lone gunman shooting spree — it was Australia’s worst killing spree till date —has indelibly marked the nation and its culture. The immediate reaction led to adoption of tight gun control regulations and subsequently through music, plays and podcasts this event has been revisited.

Enter Nitram, Justin Kurzel’s gritty depiction of Martin Bryant at 28 and happenings that lead to that fateful day. As is often the case, whether we need another one of these introspective exercises into why people commit mass murders (that ultimately give killers what they crave while taking attention away from their victims) is an obvious question. (This new drama doesn’t even call him by his actual name but instead refers to him by his alleged school moniker as ‘Nitram’, with all the violence rightly saved for off screen.)

On the other hand, this depiction of Bryant could hardly be further from glamorous; played by an entrancing Caleb Landry Jones in a Best Actor-winning performance at Cannes, he is slow-witted young man who has social inadequacies and temper fits; undeniably suffering from some undiagnosed mental health problems which makes him “weird” enough for others to shun. His father (a gentle Anthony LaPaglia) tries to stay patient, his mother (Judy Davis, outstanding) can barely hide her frustrations. It all starts when he meets an older richer woman named Helen (an enigmatic Essie Davis); when Helen dies tragically in a car crash she leaves Bryant herself sprawling mansion plus a life-altering sum of money. After his dad commits suicide following business failure in real estate later on however; the already tightly wound up Bryant starts making plans that would sadly become all too familiar like buying guns.

Although Nitram may come across as yet another mass-murder movie trying to draw a logical line between difficult psychology and extreme acts, the extent of skill on show in both the extraordinary performances and stunning craftsmanship is unquestionable. Sean Grant, who wrote Snowtown and True History Of The Kelly Gang, penned Kurzel’s third screenplay; a director (Curzel seems to love stories about violent outcasts) who doesn’t shy away from condemning Bryant as being too sympathetic even as it highlights the systemic failures in care and law that allowed him to live out his wildest fantasies.

The film climaxes when Bryant fulfils what he believes is his true talent; grimly stating that firearm ownership rates have never been higher in Australia. Nonetheless, it is not clear for whom exactly this film is made. In essence, this could be seen as a tender memorial or perhaps an urgent cautionary tale. However, there is also some discomforting feeling that it could be playing into the hands of the real-life Bryant himself who – presently serving 35 life sentences with no possibility of parole – would certainly relish being back at the epicenter again.

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