Introducing Nitram, the unsettling true story of Martin Bryant and the events leading up to the infamous Port Arthur massacre.
Nitram (2021), is the latest feature film from Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel. Described as a Psychological Drama, Kurzel’s 2021 low-budget spectacle is much more than that. Tapping into the psyche of the world’s most vulnerable and dangerous serial killer. Nitram tells the story of Martin Bryant. A seemingly isolated and mentally disabled teenager who orchestrated one of the deadliest shootings in history.
The world premiere of Nitram took place at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. A festival not so unfamiliar for the pedigree actor and lead Caleb Landry Jones. Attending the festival back in 2017 with Martin McDonagh to celebrate the release of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017). Through his filmography, Jones has often found himself in the roles of characters unhinged and on the spectrum. Whether it’s the racist small-minded Red Welby in Three Billboards or the sadistic puppeteer Jeremy Armitage in Get Out (2017). Caleb Landry Jones has proven his acting calibre and ability to fill such niche shoes. Never shying away from the more physiologically demanding roles. Winning the Cannes 2022 Best Actor Accolade for his role as Nitram.
Kurzel’s true story adaptation, Nitram, is Based on one of the world’s worst massacres to date and Australia’s deadliest. The massacre of which was orchestrated by Martin Bryant at the age of 29. Bryant was a mentally challenged introvert said to have the IQ of an 11-year-old, who killed a total of 35 people, injuring a further 23 during, what is now known as the Port Arthur Massacre.
Taking place on 28 April 1996. Bryant had walked into the Port Arthur cafe, loaded with an AR-15. Taking the lives of over 20 people, before fleeing in a car with the massacre continuing until his arrest the following day. Whilst many films have told the story of Bryant in different ways, Nitram opts for a very different approach.
Rather than focusing on the massacre, Nitram removes all violent imagery in exchange for a more psychologically driven storyline. Written by Shaun Grant, and directed by Justin Kurzel. The duo had previously worked on the true story Snowtown (2011)— another Australian true story focused on the serial killings committed by John Bunting, Joe Wagner and James Vlassakis.
The two remove all glorification of violence for a more demanding and thought provoking viewing experience. Nitram’s story arc effortlessly displays the progressive downfall of Martin’s mental stability. The film itself is Martin spelt backwards, a metaphor for his backward mentality and behaviour. Instead of showcasing and glorifying the incredibly inhumane act, Martin orchestrated.
Kurzel and Grant create a film that can only be described as a psychological insight into the mind of a serial killer. A man who thinks without consequence. Viewers are transported into Bryant’s world. With each scene as unsettling as the rest. At times the movie seems like an exaggerated version of reality. But the truth is, this is really how Martin Bryant behaved.
Unpredictable in nature and intellectually and morally disfigured, the duo masterfully portray Martin in an effortless copy-paste manner. With Caleb Landry Jones behind the wheel with a tour-de-force performance. Gaining weight for the role and constantly dishevelled, Jones is the spitting image.
Whether it’s Nitram’s cathartic orchestra of fireworks in the middle of the night, his voyeuristic behaviour, Temper tantrums, or impulsive grabbing of the steering wheel in a moving car. Kurzel and Grant, excellently translate the truest aspects of Bryant’s behaviour and personality onto the screen in a naturalistic manner.
Ultimately creating a character that at times, seems too theatrically unpredictable and extreme to be real. But is. After all, only a human so theatrically over the top and extreme could be responsible for such monstrosities. Destructive and senseless behaviour from a destructive and senseless human.
Both Kurzel and Grant create a stripped-back piece of artistry through saturated colour tones, the intricate direction of photography and powerhouse performances, at times Nitram feels like a fly-on-the-wall documentary.
Following the events leading up to the Port Arthur massacre, Nitram shows the relationship between Martin and Helen Harvey. A 50-something-year-old wealthy singleton who develops an unusual and sexually tense relationship. Helen as well, struggling with mental health illnesses, takes Martin in, treating him like a partner and spending large sums of money on him.
Eventually, their relationship evolved to the point in which Harvey wrote Bryant into her will. Lasting a total of five years, Bryant and Harvey’s relationship is brought to a devastating end as a consequence of Martin’s reckless behaviour. The outcome ultimately led to Bryant’s boiling point.
Since premiering at Cannes 2022, and winning Jones the award for Best Actor, Nitram has seemed to disappear under the radar. Potentially due to its harrowing and depressive themes, the film is unarguably one you have to be in the mood for.
However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that Kurzel and Grant have created yet another phenomenal piece of independent cutting-edge Australian cinema. With the film securing distribution agreements across the EU, the UK and America, time will tell if this Cannes spectacle gets the widespread recognition it truly deserves.
Touted to be a hot prospect at next year’s Academy Awards, there is still plenty of time for peak interest once again. Nitram is currently slated for EU, UK and US release this month, arriving at US box offices last weekend.
Check the trailer out below: