As election debate on the death or speculated resurrection of Liberal’s Work Choices policy reaches fever pitch, this strong local debut feature from writer/director Mark Fitzpatrick comes at a fortuitous time.
When the cogs of machinery halt and a crew of workers down tools in a suburban factory, all that’s left to do is pass the time by playing cards, drinking beer and engaging in blokey banter until their ticket to freedom, redundancy money, comes through. The men – straight shooting foreman Jack (Colin Friels, Tom White), alpha male Kip (Simon Van Der Stap, All Saints), virginal Vince (Michael Denkha, The Combination), stoner Simon (Andrew Windsor, White Collar Blue), romantic Des (Brendan Clearkin, Gabriel) and bookish outsider Wesley (Martin Dingle Wall, Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities) – shoot the breeze on everything from genital size to shameful secrets revealing a deep vulnerability behind their bravado.
Paranoia grips the men when a new worker, the polite and clean-cut David (David Field, Oyster Farmer) joins the factory; Jack is convinced that this newcomer is a spy from head office sent to gather dirt on the men so the company can forfeit their redundancy payments. Meanwhile, Wesley and David bond over a shared love of culture. Both are troubled with dark secrets to bear and are inextricably linked.
The presence of the intensely private, off-kilter David is the catalyst for a pressure cooker scenario of bitter antagonism, misconception and mean-spiritedness as workplace bullying takes the cruelest of turns and a tragedy of swift, brutal retribution follows.
A presumably low budget indie, The Nothing Men has an inherently theatrical feel with a focus on macho, homophobic dialogue and much of the action set on the factory floor. That could have resulted in claustrophobia were it not for some powerfully engaging performances from the lead cast. Friels is disturbingly prickly; a cold-blooded scoundrel, seething in hatred and reveling in his lack of political correctness while Dingle Wall is affecting as a deeply damaged man. It’s Field that steals the show though, as the increasingly unhinged family man on the outer with an unnerving, heart-breaking performance which ranks as one of his best.
While the storyline feels mostly authentic, its one major false note is the reliance on coincidence to establish the film’s major twist. Aside from that, The Nothing Men’s makers have delivered what seems at first a topical testosterone-laced blue collar drama of male ego on a slow burn only to deftly, almost surreptitiously flip the film upside down to become a hard-bitten psychological thriller. It’s a gripping, bold debut.
The Nothing Men is released on the 12th of August.
Director: Mark Fitzpatrick.
Cast: David Field, Colin Friels, Martin Dingle Wall, Simon Van Der Stap, Michael Denkha, Andrew Windsor, Brendan Clearkin