We spend a day in the life of Les (John Brumpton), a pawn shop owner in the suburb of Footscray, whose customers provide a glimpse into the diversity that surrounds his small place in the world. His shop-assistant is Danny (Damiel Hill) a reserved and reticent guy who has a crush on a local book store employee. Customers come and go as Les and Danny sit behind the counter, and through their eyes we see the best and worst in people. At times heartwarming, and at times heartbreaking, the film takes on a range of influences and presents uniquely Australian portrait.
Because the film's structure is so heavily inspired, comparisons to other films are inevitable. It is a compliment to reference films like SMOKE, CLERKS and DO THE RIGHT THING, and there is no criticism when pointing out the similarities. All good art is influenced and when it comes to PAWNO, it lends from the best for maximum impact. The in-store musing about life (SMOKE), the flagrant disregard for customer service (CLERKS) and the exploration of social complexities (DO THE RIGHT THING) are all combined fluently to bring the various unrelated stories together with a common link... the pawn store.
Brumpton and Hill lead the film perfectly and share a rapport that shines through the material. Their on-screen chemistry is rock-solid and incredibly sincere, with a relationship arc that finishes miles from where it began. The supporting ensemble features Meave Dermody, Kerry Armstrong, Tony Rickards and Mark Silveira (amongst others) who all give heartfelt performances, each with their own unique emotional hit. The film's well placed comic relief comes from Malcolm Kennard and Mark Coles Smith as two street loiterers who discuss global topics that are far beyond their comprehension. Their 'Jay & Silent Bob'-eque character's are well placed throughout the film to help facilitate smooth transitions between the stories. Their hopeless existence may be familiar to any viewer who's walked the city streets, and what PAWNO does is to remove some of the stigma that homeless vagrants have, and gives them a likeable rapport.
Actor Damian Hill wrote the screenplay with Paul Ireland directing. Both men come from theatrical backgrounds and spent years developing the film which included a crowd-funding campaign. Their talent is undeniable, and the strength of the material is irrefutable, and it maddens me that filmmakers like them would need to plough the fields so feverishly without the government assistance they so clearly deserve. Nevertheless it is to their credit that they made the film and got it released to much acclaim.
Kudos to Hill and Ireland for working around the system and creating one of the best Australian films of the year. Like so many other incredible local films in recent times, they have shown a tenacity (and heart) that flips a proverbial finger to the mainstream funding-bodies and proves to up-and-coming filmmakers that what truly matters is a good idea and the brawn to make it happen.