Black and White offers an engaging historical Australian portrait, but it should be a lot more gripping than it is.An indigenous drifter, Max Stuart (David Ngoombujarra), was arrested for the rape and murder of a little girl in 1958. Two small-fry progressive lawyers (Robert Carlyle, Kerry Fox) save him from being hanged. After his release from prison, Stuart eventually became Chairman of the Central Land Council; the film features the real Stuart in a bizarre epilogue but makes no mention of his achievements once freed.
Charles Dance admirably avoids shrill villainy as the elitist Crown prosecutor, and Fox is earthy and warm as bland Carlyle’s partner. A mannered Ben Mendelsohn is the young Rupert Murdoch, whose newspaper protests Stuart’s sentence. Ngoombujarra is fine in a mostly reactive role.By refusing to argue that Stuart was innocent, director Craig Lahiff and writer Louis Nowra have made a bloodless film. Black and White deals with wild live issues but, amazingly, it can’t arouse passions about any of them - not the death penalty, corrupt police, snobbish upper classes, institutional racism, the paternalistic legal system or the prevalent bureaucratic Imperial mindset of the period.