Last night America got their first taste of Australia’s newest series that seamlessly blends thousands of years of Aboriginal history, political intrigue, drama, and some unapologetically strong social commentary.
Cleverman thrusts you into a dystopian future that’s not too far off where a war is on the horizon. This conflict is between the newly revealed Hairypeople and those that would seek to subjugate, experiment on, and even wipe them off the face of the Earth. And with tensions already on a razor thin line, a bad situation is made worse when the government manipulates recent murders to further their agenda against the Hairies.
This episode wastes no time in establishing it’s direction from our first encounter with a Hairy to meeting the West brothers. Waruu West (Rob Collins) is a driven and motivated activist who speaks out against the government’s treatment of the Hairypeople. He’s also coveted the role and power of Cleverman since childhood. His brother, Koen (Hunter Page-Lochard), on the other hand has less interest in his brother or heritage and has his eyes on keeping his bar while hustling on the side. It’s this act that brings young Koen into contact with a Hairy family attempting to leave The Zone. After he successfully smuggles the family out (for a fee of course) they are later found by the Containment Authorities. In an emotionally charged and violent scene a family member is killed, setting off a chain of events that will bring about hard choices and sacrifices. It’s this event along with Uncle Jimmy’s (Uncle Jack Charles) choice of who becomes his successor that sets things in motion.
Page and Collins give exceptional performances throughout and establish their characters in such a way that you have to know how their story will end. Neither brother is perfect, with their flaws exposed almost immediately it’s a wonder why either would be chosen to carry the weight and powers of the Cleverman. The scene where we finally get to see them together speaks volumes about their relationship and leaves no doubt that there is more beneath the surface regarding the animosity between them. The rest of the ensemble cast is just as great with some of the standouts being Tony Briggs who plays the patriarch of the Hairy family, Boondee, along with Tysan Towney who plays his son Djukara and Rarriwuy Hick who plays the eldest daughter, Latani. You’re supposed to connect with this family and they make you care about what happens even when their decisions aren’t the brightest at the time. Looking at you Djukara! One the most recognizable actors to western audiences would be Iain Glen from Game of Thrones. He plays Jarrod Slade and you’re not sure what he’s really up to at the moment. Though that could just be my own biases coming into play whenever a wealthy white man want’s to help poor and disenfranchised brown people. It usually doesn’t turn out too well in the end in these stories.
The rest of the cast is rounded out pretty well and the characters you’re supposed to hate at the moment are quickly established and what makes them great is that they don’t care. A good villain never thinks they’re the bad guy regardless of their actions and that is Minister of Immigration, Geoff Matthews through and through.
The special effects are done quite well this episode and used sparingly. Though if you have a weak stomach beware the open chest scene with the removed heart. It looks great which means that it might be a bit graphic for some of you out there. The make-up for the Hairy people is also quite amazing when you look at it’s detail. There are subtle differences that range from the color to how it’s even worn. Various clans also braid their hair differently to identify themselves and though this isn’t explained verbally it’s a nice bit of visual storytelling that moves things without having to stop for an explanation. Also the enhanced speed and strength of the Hairy people is displayed in very subtle ways and doesn’t go to extreme levels just to give a cool effect for the screen. When the abilities of the Cleverman are displayed during a bloody altercation it’s a nice blend of practical effects and CGI that keeps you firmly planted in the moment. As impressive as these effects are, I hope that their continued use is only when necessary and does not venture over to “look at this cool thing we can do!” territory.
I did take issue with one of the fight fight scenes that took place in The Zone though. It was a clunky/ugly scene and not the good kind like back in the 80s before everyone needed to have stylized fighting. It only stands out because of how excellent the fight sequence in the parking garage was. That one hit emotional beats and had a nice rhythm to it as far as choreography which helped to build on the story. The latter was just several missteps that sets up a conflict between two of the characters but could have been done elsewhere to avoid a lackluster fight scene.
Cleverman is unapologetically sending a message with it’s narrative and it’s one that reflects what indigenous communities are facing in Australia. However it’s a story that is also relatable to some of us over here in the western hemisphere. Which also brings us to why Cleverman creator, Ryan Griffen, chose to bring this vision to the world. He wanted his son to have a cultural superhero to look up to that essentially looked like and represents him. But to go a step further, Cleverman also boasts a prominently indigenous cast and crew which is representation in front and behind the camera. Now THAT is something worth tuning in to see aside from the action, drama, supernatural elements, and great cast!
You can check out the trailer here!