Leeds International Film Festival review – Noise

Noise (2007)

Dir. Matthew Saville

108mins

Screened: Friday 16th November, 2007 

My series of film reviews from the 2007 Leeds Film Festival comes to a long-overdue end, with a look at the last film I saw in the festival. Noise is a leftfield Australian film billed in the festival literature as a thriller, although in the end it amounts to something both more and less than the categorisation would suggest.

A young girl walks through a station late at night and gets onto a commuter train. After seeing something out of place, she comes to a horrifying realisation – the train is full of bodies, the scene of a mass shooting. From this shocking opening scene the filmmaker’s attention ripples outward to examine the effect of the murders on a variety of characters, most notably Constable Graham McGahan. Not your average heroic film police officer, we first see McGahan collapsing on an escalator from a fit of tinnitus. Reassigned to “light duty” after his accident, he spends most of the film sitting in a “mobile police station” in a caravan, taking witness statements regarding the discovery of a dead body that may or may not be connected to the shootings.

McGahan is a genuinely funny character to watch, with Brendan Cowell’s low-key performance propelling him through the film without arousing many doubts on the audience’s part about where it’s all going. For the most part, we’re content to watch him goof around in the caravan, drop deadpan witticisms during conversations and strike up a friendship with an autistic kid who or may not hold the key to the whole case.

From this, it should be obvious Noise is not a conventional thriller, with mysteries uncovered and bad guys thwarted. It’s not even a conventional procedural – the detectives investigating the case only appear in a couple of scenes, without many hints as to the progression of the case. The film bears more of resemblance to the Short Cuts/Crash style of filmmaking, showing the interconnected lives of a disparate group of people united only by their geographical proximity.

One aspect of the film that deserves mention is its use of sound and vision, and for this I was grateful that I saw it on an enormous cinema screen with surround sound. McGahan’s tinnitus is suggested to the audience by the most ordinary of sounds being amplified to shockingly loud levels, creating a somewhat alienating soundscape that adds to the tension present throughout the film. There are a few excellent scenes that bring home McGahan’s internal disorder, such as when he turns on every single appliance in his house and hunkers down amid the cacophony in an attempt to drown out the ringing in his ears.

One particularly affecting scene has McGahan’s hearing going completely. We hear everything from his point of view as he crashes around the house in a panic, the sound of the outside world and his girlfriend’s calming words reduced to muffled vibrations. It’s a scene that goes for the emotional jugular, but keeps it low-key, and holds the audience’s belief as we’re trapped with him, terrified by the sudden loss of a vital sense.

The visual composition is similarly striking, with the film’s rather ordinary suburban setting given an unyielding air of menace. Underneath the harsh glare of fluorescent lights, convenience store car parks and commuter belt train stations are turned into dangerous places, all humming with an underlying potential for violence, with furious, crackling energies waiting to be released. If Michael Mann ever made a film set in suburbia, chances are it would look a lot like Noise.

The film contains several brilliantly judged moments of tension and terror. The conversations between McGahan and a hostile member of the public take on a menacing subtext, with potential violence buried just under the surface. There is, however, a certain knowingness to the film’s emotional crescendos which distanced me from them. The scene where Maia Thomas’ witness is confronted by the man she wongly identified in a line-up, only to turn the tables and confront him, is played with a raw intensity by both actors involved. But I found it to be a little too glib and contrived to pack a real emotional punch. This, combined with the insulting suddenness of the non-ending, turns Noise into an intruiging concept, unsuccessfully realised. The sound and and fury are there, but this really is a tale signifying nothing.

(Did I just rip off Shakespeare for a film review on my blog? I guess I did.)

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