14 March 2024

The Rooster provides salvation in the most unexpected ways

| Rama Gaind
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still from a movie, with two men standing in a forest

Phoenix Raei and Hugo Weaving star in The Rooster. Photo: Supplied.

Salvation can come when you least expect it. The Rooster is an absorbing story about friendship and how hope can come from the most unlikely places.

It follows small-town cop Dan (Phoenix Raei, The Night Agent, Clickbait), who is devastated after the body of his oldest friend is found buried in a shallow grave in the bush. Dan seeks answers from a volatile hermit (Hugo Weaving, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Love Me), who is believed to be the last person to have seen his friend alive.

Dan is an introverted cop who lives alone with his chickens and beloved rooster, patrolling the one-man satellite police station of a small town in rural Victoria. His life is changed forever when his childhood friend Steve, who suffers from a traumatic brain injury, changes his medication, with devastating results.

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Dan chooses not to follow the police protocol of sectioning Steve to a psychiatric facility and instead returns Steve to his ageing parents, who are at the end of their tether. Steve is found dead the next day.

His death is ruled a suicide and detectives question Dan’s decision-making. Rattled and mentally unfit to continue work, Dan hands in his gun and begins drinking, haunted by Steve and the responsibility he feels for his death. When his pet rooster is killed by a fox, Dan lets go of the fragile tether he has on his sanity and retreats to camp in the forest, seeking isolation and solutions.

After a chance encounter with an eccentric old hermit living deep among the trees, Dan discovers Steve’s quad-bike keys in the hermit’s shack, and his suspicions deepen. As Dan gets closer to the truth of Steve’s last few hours, a deep bond is formed between the two men who have both found themselves unable to exist in society. Over games of table tennis, Dan and the hermit gradually open up to each other, and Dan begins to find purpose in caring for the hermit as his health deteriorates.

However, upon Dan’s re-entry into the world, lie upon lie is exposed. Dan is shaken to the core when he discovers that this old man with whom he has found a kinship may be responsible for a terrible act of violence.

Essential to the film’s success are the riveting performances of the two leads, Weaving and Raei. Raei’s Dan is a sulky, lonely country cop whose little moments of joy come mostly from feeding a rampaging rooster and interacting with a volatile hermit.

The film is written and directed by double Helpmann Award-winning actor, writer and director Mark Leonard Winter, who makes his feature filmmaking debut. Winter’s creative offering explores what it feels like to be caught in a frightening place of despair.

Heavy topics such as suicide and mental health are tackled with balminess and mild humour. Though death is ever present, the film is about faith, resilience and survival. Hope is not lost and no matter how dark things become, people can change, overcome and survive if they are willing to be vulnerable.

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Cinematographer Craig Barden, whose work is flawless, captures with astonishing clarity the backdrop of the picturesque and diverse Dja Dja Wurrung Country, in the Hepburn shire in Victoria during the winter of 2022.

This is very much a film about those who cannot admit their deepest wounds but get there slowly, uncertainly, through hostility.

The Rooster also features Rhys Mitchell (Cake, Upper Middle Bogan), John Waters (Offspring, Mystery Road), Robert Menzies (Little Tornadoes, Glitch), Tom Stokes (The Railway Man, Warnie), Jane Montgomery Griffiths (Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power, Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries ) and Deirdre Rubenstein (Force of Destiny, Superwog).

The Rooster, written and directed by Mark Leonard Winter, is distributed by Bonsai Films

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