Ten-year-old Tom Russell and his dad, Hugo Weaving, have already left home by the start of Glendyn Ivin’s directorial debut, Last Ride. Their road trip consumes the entirety of the film, taking the pair deep into the Australian bush. It quickly becomes clear that they’re headed away from trouble rather than toward any particular destination: At a rest stop, Weaving gives himself a haircut and shave over the restroom sink, and then the two ditch their car, taking its plates with them. Against stunning South Australian landscapes, the man and his son try to maintain a tenuous normality in spite of their dire situation, in what’s ultimately a sad, standout showcase for Weaving’s talents as a man whose good intentions can’t fix the fact that irreparable mistakes have already been made.
Simultaneously tender and terrifying, Weaving’s character is a criminal with a temper he can’t control; a wary visit to an ex-girlfriend (Anita Hegh) reveals the relationship ended because he hit her. But he’s also appealing enough to charm his way back into her bed for an afternoon, and to win over others encountered on the trip, at least when he hasn’t chosen to attack and rob them. His love for Russell is genuine, though he’s frightening as often as he’s fatherly, a point the film makes best in its pairing of two swimming lessons. The first involves Weaving throwing his kid into the water and laughingly telling him it’s the best way to learn, as the child frantically paddles to keep his head above water. The second is warm and apologetic, as he patiently teaches the boy how to float on his back.
Russell’s understanding of what’s happening parallels the audience’s, as he becomes more and more distressed about the fate of a friend (John Brumpton) they left behind. The slow realization of what happened to Brumpton, combined with the fact that the two are eventually going to run out of road, gives the film a downtrodden inevitability—there’s no happy ending on the horizon, and what’s at stake is how bad it’s going to get. In spite of that sense of knowing where the film is headed long before it gets there, Last Ride finds poetry in its gorgeous backdrop and its portrait of a complicated character attempting, hopelessly, to set things right after upending the world.