After thirty years of working for an underworld consortium Jack Barrett (Colin Friels) has had enough of killing for a living. Now at 53, Barrett is tired of the sordid life and tired of jumping to attention every time his boss Reno (Linal Haft) gives him yet another commission. He regularly visits the prostitute, Kate (Angie Milliken), who seems to have a soft spot for him, while he dreams of a simple life in a small fishing village, but in order to get out of the business, there is one final job to do. Sounds simple, but then Billie Finn (Bojana Novakovic) comes along, a 19 year old university student doing her thesis on the fallout from the Commission on Organised crime… and Barrett is a key source.
Review by Louise Keller:
An assured genre film from an exciting new filmmaker, Solo looks at life from the point of view of a hit man whose conscience has caught up with him. The first winner of the Project Greenlight Australia scriptwriting initiative, writer/director Morgan O'Neill was given a production budget of a million dollars to make his film. The result is impressive from all angles. Good storytelling, well constructed characters and an outstanding performance by Colin Friels take us into the complex world of Jack Barrett. Mood takes priority over action, and the jazzy score that conveys Barrett's internal world is a tangible and alluring character.
It's not a mid-life crisis, is it? asks the seedy gun shop owner, when Colin Friel's Jack Barrett dumps guns of-all-sorts on his counter to sell. But Barrett's repulsion for the life he is leading as a hit man is a crisis of larger proportions. The daily grind of discarding bloodied body parts into the harbour has now become unbearable and he takes solace by gazing at the photo of the idyllic fishing spot of Bateman's Bay on the back of his car's sun visor. And then he meets idealistic and persistent Billie Finn (Bojana Novakovic). Novakovic (winner, 2004 AFI Best Actress Award for Marking Time), is fresh and delightful. The relationship between Barrett and Billie is a compelling contrast of cynical and fresh. British actor Linal Haft delivers a fine turn as smarmy thug Reno and Angie Milliken injects a world-weary acceptance of her lot as the prostitute, Kate. Bruce Spence as gunshop owner, Vince Colosimo as corrupt cop and Chris Haywood as underworld king pin Arkan hit the mark in smaller roles.
O'Neill takes us skilfully into Barrett's psyche. His reality is matter of fact; his dreams describe the man and reveal his heart and soul. There is no sentimentality in the way O'Neill has created the characters, yet Friels makes us like Jack. Better still, he allows us to understand him. Excellent production design and cinematography complement the haunting music score. The ending comes abruptly and may fall short of some expectations, despite the immensely satisfying journey. It's an involving and complex film that leaves an indelible mark.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
You don't have to be a student of film to recognise the classic ingredients of Morgan O'Neill's debut feature: the anti-hero seeking redemption, the whore with a heart of gold who loves him, and the evil bastards he works for. And the innocent who wanders into his orbit ....
The reason these are classic ingredients, of course, is that we always love them. We love stories in which the central character is no angel but has recognised the evil of his ways and wants to go fishing in peace and harmony with the world. We especially love it (us music lovers) if he's really into some serious music, whether the great classics, even opera - or, of course, the diet of noir: modern jazz. Either that, or into good wine.
Colin Friels, who looks suitably frayed at the edges (meant in the kindest possible way), is also a suitably fine actor who can breathe three dimensional life into almost any scripted character, even one as self-contradictory as Jack Barrett. Barrett might well have started out his fantasy life in O'Neill's brain as a private eye; there are even hints of this is the dialogue, with a couple of smart-aleck remarks from Billie Finn (a fine debut by Bojana Novakovic), who is surprisingly well read on last century's hard boiled private eyes.
The fact that most of the gangsters are drawn more or less from movie and tv precedents doesn't matter: these are stereotypes coming from a varied line-up. What matters is the story, and O'Neill won his $1 million production budget in Project Greenlight Australia because of just that.
O'Neill, a pro jazz muso himself, loves music enough to have made sure the film has a great score, and Hugh Miller has distinguished himself with the cinematography. Overall, the film looks a million dollars! And in this context that means it looks many millions more than it cost.
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MORGAN O'NEILL INTERVIEW
CAST: Colin Friels, Bojana Novakovic, Angie Milliken, Vince Colosimo Linal Haft, Bruce Spence, Chris Haywood, Tony Barry
PRODUCER: Sue Seeary
DIRECTOR: Morgan O'Neill
SCRIPT: Morgan O'Neill
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Hugh Miller
MUSIC: Martyn Love, Damian Deboos-Smith
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Murray Picknett
RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 6, 2006