There’s a good chance that after watching Justin Kurzel’s Nitram you’ll find yourself down the Martin Bryant/Port Arthur Massacre rabbit hole once more, delving into the minutiae of the worst mass shooting of Australian history.
Nitram leaves you, deliberately, with the need to know more, because it knows that the central questions, “Why did this happen?” and “Could it have been prevented?”, are unanswerable. But we reread and revisit and re-interrogate, because an event like that leaves deep and lasting scars in a nation’s psyche, and they still ache from time to time.
There was a bit of noise when Nitram was announced regarding the ethics around turning Bryant’s story into a movie—was it too soon? Insensitive to the needs of survivors? Exploitative? Maybe, maybe, maybe. But we were going to get a movie sooner or later, and we’re lucky we got this movie; Kurzel’s Nitram, from a script by frequent collaborator Shaun Grant, is a sublime, thoughtful, and excruciatingly empathetic look at that old sawhorse, the banality of evil.
It maps out, with some invention and smoothing of ragged edges for the purposes of dramatic presentation, Bryant’s life leading up to the very precipice of his shooting spree at the Broad Arrow Café in Port Arthur in late April, 1996. True names and identities are lightly obscured—Martin, as played by Caleb Landry Jones, is only addressed impersonally, or by the cruel schoolyard nickname that gives the film its title.