2013 / Director. Sarah Spillane.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
AROUND THE BLOCK suffers from a terrible title and to compound matters it also has an awful poster. Christina Ricci is a valuable asset to the film but her face could have been used more effectively to promote it. But of course those are material criticisms and AROUND THE BLOCK is an otherwise solid and unexpected drama that plays upon an age-old formula. Think of BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, TO SIR WITH LOVE, STAND & DELIVER and any of the other countless "teacher inspires" films and place it in a real-life, volatile & indigenous Australian suburb... the result is strangely powerful. I do enjoy the formula but I also become bored with these types of films easily and they need to work harder than most to hook me. This one worked for me. The film is set in the indigenous suburb of Redfern, in Sydney and it takes place around the time of the Redfern Riots. Christina Ricci plays an American drama teacher who embraces her class of kids and inspires them with a production of Hamlet. Unlike other films in this genre, she is not faced with resistance from the students and it is the social environment around them, which provides the struggle. With tensions between the community and the police at a boiling point, this teacher also fights with her own sexuality and realisations that the people she associates with are comfortably racist. The film never attempts to dig too deep into the issues it depicts, which is a shame, but it does provide an entry point to people who aren't familiar with the Redfern story and could provide valuable conversation on a school curriculum. The performances are solid and Christina Ricci holds it together well. Making her character American was smart and writer/director Sarah Spillane is able to offer an outsider's perspective while being able to pitch the film to a wider audience. She has also used Shakespeare's Hamlet really effectively to parallel a lot of the urban issues surrounding the community. The kids in the film are able to connect the poetry of Shakespeare's words and apply them to their own lives. It's nicely done. Here's hoping that teenagers audiences gravitate towards AROUND THE BLOCK. It might just educate them. I think it's wonderful.