“Storm Boy” is a beloved Australian film based on a beloved Australian novel — and now the film is getting a remake.
Why? Why does anything get made again? Maybe it’s to make more money, maybe it’s because someone thinks there’s something new to say (and in this version, there is). Whatever the answer to that question, it’s easy to be cynical about and wary of another film about a boy and his — no kidding — pelican. But director Shawn Seet’s film is surprisingly sweet and moving.
The core story involves a boy named Mike (Finn Little), who lives on the extremely remote Ninety Mile Beach in rural Australia with his father, a loner known as Hideaway Tom (Jai Courtney). We get to them by way of a framing device that doesn’t exist in Colin Thiele’s novel or the 1976 film. It’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, Geoffrey Rush, as the grown-up and grown-old Mike, is terrific as a rich old coot who’s forgotten how to live. On the other hand, it exists to deliver a subtle-as-a-flying-mallet message about protecting the environment. A good message, sure, but this is pretty heavy-handed.
The grown Mike has stepped down from running the massive company that has made him monstrously rich, leaving his son-in-law Malcolm (Erik Thomsen) in charge, but Mike is still on the board. Mike shows up at the skyscraper headquarters for an important vote on whether to lease land to a mining company. Protestors greet Mike at the front of the building, but there’s another protester at home — Malcolm’s daughter, Maddy (Morgana Davies), who is against the mining agreement specifically and against her father generally (“I hate him!”).
Her mom, Mike’s daughter, has died; she’s close with Mike, but angry that he can’t, or won’t, stop the deal. So Mike tells her a story of his youth, and we’re back on Ninety Mile Beach, where the film really belongs.
Young Mike is home-schooled. He and Hideaway Tom only go in town for supplies. But they’re not always alone. Drunken hunters occasionally show up to hunt pelicans, which is especially maddening because Tom is trying to get the land declared a bird sanctuary. One day Mike meets Fingerbone Bill (Trevor Jamieson), an aboriginal man who is also living apart. When hunters kill a group of pelicans, Mike and Fingerbone Bill discover three baby pelicans. Both his new friend and his father warn Mike — whom Fingerbone Bill nicknames “Storm Boy” — that the birds are unlikely to survive.
Yet they do, and Mike names them: Mr. Proud, Mr. Ponder and Mr. Percival. The latter will become a family favorite; even Tom takes to him, horsing around with the bird and his son. Of course there are hard lessons to be learned here, about love and loss — for the child and adult Mike, along with everyone else.
The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Bruce Young, who captures the harsh beauty of the land where Mike grew up. A storm follows when a pelican is killed, Fingerbone Bill tells Mike, and Young captures those storms in all their majesty and power (even if, in a couple of important places, he and Seet overdo it).
There are some beautiful scenes, as well, particularly one in which, as the young Mike tends to his pelicans, Hideaway Tom and Fingerbone Bill explain to each other how they’ve come to be so distanced from their worlds.
As for the framing device, it isn’t bad — again, Rush is a highlight — but it’s not a neat fit, either. “Storm Boy” has too big a heart at its center for that to bring it down.
Good Deed Entertainment presents a film directed by Shawn Seet and written by Justin Monjo, based on the novel by Colin Thiele. Rated PG (for some thematic elements, mild peril and brief language). Running time: 98 minutes. Now showing at local theaters.