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New Zealand 1981
Directed by
Mike Newell
109 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Bad Blood

Mike Newell's film is based on the book "Manhunt: The Story of Stanley Graham" by Howard Willis which told the real-life story of Stan Graham, who in 1941 went berserk and killed 7 people. Graham (Jack Thompson) and his wife (Carol Burns) were none-too-bright small-time farmers in the small-time town of Koiterangi on the West Coast of New Zealand. They were largely crippled by poverty and  in their desperation prone to paranoid delusions about their neighbours and the forces they believed were out to destroy them. When the local police officer (Denis Lill) demands his beloved .303 rifle to help in the war effort it is the final straw for the beleaguered Stan.

Versatile English director, Newell, brings a strong sense of realism to the story and treats its issues with sensitivity and insight aided by fine performances from Thompson and Burns (both Australian actors) as the bitter, socially-estranged couple. Proceedings are much aided by the superb landscape photography of Gary Hansen which very effectively creates a placid backdrop for the tragedy. 

Newell eschews sensationalism or action for its own sake and concentrates on Graham's humanity in the face of society's indifference, a quality that, combined with his resolute, bloody-minded independence won him admiration from the weaker souls around him, as long, of course, as it didn't threaten their status quo. The first half  leading up to the calamity is the strongest largely because Thompson is less visible in the second half but although a relatively small scale film with a limited plot Bad Blood represents exemplary film-making.




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