Friday, October 22, 2010

Mad Dog Morgan (1976)

Philippe Mora's Mad Dog Morgan is not a generic cat and mouse game between a criminal and policemen. It's one of those rare biopic that can almost be watched like a documentary.

In the 1850s, Daniel Morgan (Dennis Hopper), an Irish immigrant, comes in the Australian state of Victoria during the gold rush. Because he's unlucky, Morgan will be poor and lose hope. In order to survive, he commits armed robberies, but will end up in prison. He initially has a penalty of 12 years, but will be on parole after six years because of his good behaviour. Once he's out, Daniel will become a bushranger in the outback. With the help of Billy (David Gulpilil), an Aboriginal who teaches how to survive and defend himself in the wild, he steals from rich landowners and passersby. Of course, the states of Victoria and New South Wales will devote a lot of manpower to catch Daniel Morgan until his death in 1865.

With its seemingly ordinary storyline, Mad Dog Morgan doesn't reinvent the wheel when it comes to making a film about criminals who end up being killed by policemen. However, unlike Michael Mann's Public Enemies, which was a decent summer blockbuster, Mad Dog Morgan doesn't just limit itself at being a banal cat-and-mouse story. Behind each robbery by Daniel Morgan, director Philippe Mora perspicaciously wonders if Australia's colonial era rooted in some people's mind the belief that criminality is an alternative for survival.

Add to that the solid performance by the late Dennis Hopper. Whether his character laughs, drinks or steals from people, Hopper makes us feel the loss of hope by Daniel Morgan. In fact, we feel that the character blames the Australian society of the time for promising to newcomers glory and fortune along with letting them dry if they fail. Of course: never does Mora glorify the crimes of Daniel Morgan and sticks to a factual presentation of what Morgan did.

Finally, Mad Dog Morgan might appear very ordinary at the first look. However, behind this deceiving look, this Australian film gives us the feeling that we're actually seeing life through the eyes of a criminal.

Rating: 4/5

Origin:Australia (1976)
Length:102 minutes
Genre:Historical drama
Screenplay:Philippe Mora
Director:Philippe Mora
Starring:Dennis Hopper, Jack Thompson et David Gulpilil

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