Hail is the tale of a broken man without self-control, and stuck within the confines of a violent criminal past, his present social position and the company he keeps, there is little hope for him evolving. When tragedy hits close to home, he feels like he has nothing to live for and descends into a spiral of merciless self-destruction and madness. Hail, a docu-drama of astounding authenticity, tells a nightmarish and uncompromising revenge tale brimming with harsh verbal and physical brutality and a sensory bashing that will be tough to shake. Based on the life and stories of former prisoner Daniel P Jones, who stars in the film as himself, Hail is a rough-looking film tracking the raw realities of the return of an ex-con to society following his release from a Melbourne prison. With his bold first feature Melbourne filmmaker Amiel Courtin-Wilson (Bastardy) blurs the line between fact and fiction and creates an observant, brutal and unsettling docu-drama sure to be admired by tough-skinned viewers.
Danny is a hulking, disheveled, scary looking man and if you saw him walking towards you down the street you’d probably make an effort to avoid him.
But once we are familiar with his relationship with his girlfriend Leanne (an excellent performance from Jones’ real-life girlfriend and now wife, Leanne Letch), his daily battle with his percolating prison-built demons and the mounting frustrations he has trying to land a job, we begin to feel privileged to be watching his unique story.
Hail tells a dark and alienating journey into the headspace of a battered soul looking to change his life, but through a concoction of drugs and alcohol, a barely suppressed rage, and ultimately a terrible tragedy that might have involved a heroin dealer friend of Leanne’s, Danny, fuelled by revenge, spirals further into a personal hell.
Jones’ extraordinarily convincing performance is a blend of his own raw emotion and personal improvisation – because of his familiarity with the situations – but with heightened drama and often gut-wrenching intensity. His chemistry with Leanne is understandably strong and results in some genuinely tender moments between the two.
With jarring sound design Hail is a grueling sensory experience. Accompanied by walls of buzzing sounds we witness along the way a series of unfocused visual experiments, bizarre dream sequences (one features a horse falling from the sky) and a couple of horrific interrogations.
Apart from not particularly enjoying myself, the only issues I have with the film are its length – believe me there’s only so much of this you can take - and some of the camera work. It is entirely experimental hand-held and kind of goes off the rails in the second half. The image is frequently shifting focus and I think the image is out of focus just as much as it is clear.
Hail is rough and raw and not a source of entertainment at all, but this bold and audacious film still offers plenty to admire and Courtin-Wilson proves he is a director to watch.
[rating=3] and a half
Directed by: Amiel Courtin-Wilson
Starring: Daniel P Jones
Hail, distributed through Madman, currently has a limited release in Australia. In Melbourne, it is screening at Cinema Nova and in Sydney it can be seen at Dendy Newtown.