out of Five
Running time: 101
Engaging drama that slowly gets under your skin, thanks to striking cinematography, a sparse but effective script and strong performances from its two young leads.
What's it all about?
Written and directed (and shot and scored) by Warwick Thornton, Samson & Delilah is set in a tiny Australian desert community and stars Rowan McNamara as Samson, a seemingly mute, petrol-huffing Aboriginal boy who lives with his older brother (Matthew MG Gibson) and lusts after Delilah (Marissa Gibson), who lives across the road with her Nana (Mitjili Gibson). When Nana dies and Samson has a vicious fight with his brother, the pair steal a jeep and drive head for the city, where they end up living under a bridge in Alice Springs with Gonzo (Scott Thornton), an eccentric homeless guy.
Though Gonzo does at least manage to coax Samson into saying his own name (his only line of dialogue), Samson spirals deeper into his petrol-sniffing habit and barely notices when tragedy strikes.
The performances are excellent. Rowan McNamara conveys an enormous amount despite his lack of dialogue, while Marissa Gibson is extremely engaging as Delilah. They also have a convincing chemistry and you really root for them to pull themselves out of their situation.
There's also strong support from Matthew MG Gibson, Mitjili Gibson and Scott Thornton (the director's brother), who's superb as the garrulous Gonzo. The film also makes strong and effective use of music, particularly through Samson's obsession with his battered radio (which has a powerful emotional pay-off) and his yearning to be involved in his brother's band (the reason for their fight).
The film is beautifully shot and Thornton creates a starkly realistic atmosphere that really gets under your skin, to the point where it occasionally feels like you're watching a heartbreaking documentary and are powerless to intervene. As a result, the film stands as a powerful commentary on Australian society's attitudes to the Aboriginal community.
If there's a problem, it's only that Thornton seems uncertain how to end the film – there are at least three moments towards the end where you think the film is over, only for yet another scene to pop up, though each scene would work just as well as the final shot.
Samson & Delilah is an impressively directed, emotionally engaging drama that really gets under your skin and marks writer-director Thornton out as a talent to watch.