Mia Wasikowska stars in this mournful, stodgy drama about the emotional cost of protecting the planet from its most rapacious predator: the land developer.
Consider the western blue groper the St. Bernard of Australia’s southern coast, a heavy, friendly fish game to frolic with swimmers if fed the right treats. “Blueback” gets its title from the pet name a young diver gives her aquatic playmate. Directed by Robert Connolly, it’s a mournful, stodgy, girl-meets-fish drama about the emotional cost of protecting the planet from its most rapacious predator: the land developer.
The screenplay, which Connolly adapted from Tim Winton’s 1997 children’s novel, unspools in flashback. Abby (Mia Wasikowska) is a marine biology professor paddling frantically to prevent the collapse of a coral reef when she learns that her mother, Dora (Radha Mitchell), is dying. Returning home, Abby recalls a childhood steeped in environmental activism. She chooses to fight with science; her mother fearlessly screams at greedy fishermen and chains herself to a construction truck. (Abby’s father, a pearl diver, was eaten by a tiger shark.)
Mitchell’s earthy, mercurial performance — plus a supporting bit from Eric Bana as a bonfire-dancing bohemian — loosen up memories that feel too tightly welded together. You can feel barnacles on the dialogue, like when a corporate bully (Erik Thomson) growls, “You and your mom really think you can stop this, don’t you?”
While Nigel Westlake’s violin flurries froth up suspense whenever possible, the film has more impact simply letting the women pause to soak in the beauty of the ocean. The one exception is a wrenching moment when the teen version of Abby (Ilsa Fogg), in desperation, punches her beloved Blueback to scare him away from spear hunters. We’ve seen variations on that musty but effective “shoo, boy!” scene, starring everything from dogs and wolves to a giant ant and Sasquatch. Your eyes get just as wet with a fish.
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 42 minutes. In theaters.
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