Tomorrow When the War Began (2010) is an adaptation of the first novel in the most popular Australian Young Adult series of my generation, written by John Marsden. Highly anticipated, the film was moderately successful, albeit I do not think it reached studio expectations. Intended as the start of a series of at least three films (and possibly a TV series subsequent to that), work on a sequel seems to have stalled of late, though as far as I can tell one is still planned.
I watched this film at the cinema and whilst I guess I liked it, the flaws really bothered me. Re-watching it, my opinion has definitely changed because I think it is a pretty fantastic piece of entertainment. The very Red Dawn (1984) esque plot sees a group of teens go away camping in the bush for a weekend. They return to find that Australia has been invaded, their home town completely taken over. Eventually they decide to fight back and form a troupe of very inexperienced guerrilla warriors. The second half of the film tracks their first major assault on the enemy. One of the notable aspects of the book is that it never identified who it was that invaded. A film adaptation does not have this choice as it has to show the enemy armies. So in this iteration of the story, it is an unknown Asian country that has invaded Australia because of its vast swathes of underpopulated land and its resources. This is actually a pretty standard xenophobic fear in Australia. That one day hordes from the north (generally in this xenophobic worldview it is the Indonesians that will do it) will invade Australia for our land. I don’t think that the film is intentionally playing on this fear. I just think it is unfortunate that the nature of film forces the identity of the invaders to be, at least somewhat, revealed.
Tomorrow When the War Began is the kind of film not often generated out of Australia. An ambitious budget spent on populist and fun pure entertainment. Thankfully, despite its unashamed mainstream intentions, the movie pulls no punches. Unafraid to make interesting statements about militarism and depict cowardice, it’s high action galore, unabashedly showing the reality of modern warfare and at times (though only when necessary) doing so with explicit violence. There’s no doubting that some of the set up of the plot and characters is clumsy, but it is never uncharming. My major issue with the film the first time I watched it was the script. Upon this viewing though, whilst some lines jarred for me, I actually think I was too harsh on that aspect of the film first time around. I think much of the dialogue that I perhaps had issues with previously is just written to be spoken by teenage characters. On that front, it predominately works. In fact the film captures what I recall of being a teenager quite well. There is an undercurrent of teen angst in the film, without it being an actual focus of the movie which is refreshing. The notion of discovering or making one’s way in the world as well as the, at times crippling, unstable sense of self-worth is really well done.
As is so often the case with films aimed at teens, the quality of acting is what really elevates or sinks the film. Thankfully the cast of Tomorrow When the War Began, mostly young veterans of Australian soaps, are really great. It is also a testament to the script that even though there are 8 main characters, the characterisation of all of them is lean and successful. Leading the way is former Ramsay Street resident Caitlin Stasey as main protagonist Ellie. She is effectively and believably able to convey what it must be like to be in such a horrific situation. Moreover, her character is a fantastically cool, all action heroine. She is the leader of the pack, the one who (whilst not entirely on her own) drives the group forward in all that they do. Hopefully more films do come to pass, because hers is a strong female character arc desperately needed. Another character who goes on a great ‘journey’ throughout this film is the ultra-religious Robyn, played by Phoebe Tonkin (most recently seen being utterly awesome as Dot in the ABC series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries). She is fantastic in the role and is able to really embody someone going through a great moral and spiritual torment as well as all the other horrors that are swirling around her. Of the male leads, it is Deniz Akdeniz as Homer who is the undoubted pick of the bunch. His character has a really interesting, though refreshingly totally platonic, relationship with Ellie and Akdeniz is able to bring the spirit of this popular and loveable renegade to the forefront of his performance. Unfortunately, the only letdown in the acting stakes was Lincoln Lewis as the smarmy Kevin. He simply does not convince and this is the second film, after Bait 3D (2012), where I have felt that way about him.
Overflowing with interesting characters and loads of action, Tomorrow When the War Began definitely did not disappoint for me this time around. There are so many interesting places to take this series, so here’s hoping that the rest of John Marsden’s brilliant books can find their way onto the screen sooner rather than later.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
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