A fiction inspired by horrific true events, High Ground is a harrowing and deeply moving exploration of Australia’s blood-drenched history.
Stephen Maxwell Johnson‘s Aussie western (or northern as Johnson describes the film’s genre) opens with a sickening massacre. What should have been a peaceful operation by law enforcement to capture bandits who seeked refuge with an aboriginal community, turns into a bloodbath. Policeman and former sniper, Travis (Simon Baker), rescues a child who was just made an orphan by the massacre, Gutjuk (Guruwuk Mununggurr), and leaves him in the care of white missionaries before quitting the police force in disgust when the massacre is covered up by his superiors. 12 years later, Travis is pressured by his former police chief (Jack Thompson) into trying to put an end to a series of attacks by Indigenous people on white settlers led by the only other survivor of the massacre, Gutjuk’s uncle Baywarra (Sean Mununggur).
The violence is harrowing, the shoot-outs are riveting, the performances are engrossing, and despite the film’s dark subject matter, the film is beautiful to look at with its jaw-dropping cinematography that perfectly captures the indescribable beauty of Arnhem Land.
A film of immense beauty and violence, high ground is an uncompromising confrontation with Australia’s colonial past and is one of this year’s finest films.
High Ground releases on January 28th.
Read our interview with Stephen Maxwell Johnson and Witiyana Marika here.
Reviewed by Jordan Ellis