Phillip Noyce’s follow-up to Newsfront was a contemporary (to 1981) Australian political thriller. Incidentally, the same year’s The Killing of Angel Street was also inspired by the disappearance of Sydney journalist and anti-development crusader Juanita Neilson.Like Newsfront, Heatwave centres on a man of integrity under moral pressure, in this case upwardly mobile architect Stephen West (Richard Moir). His template for future low-cost housing has been co-opted by a greedy developer (Chris Haywood) and a consortium of Big Business with links to crime. Middle-class anarchist Kate Dean (Judy Davis) awakens his conscience after a sleuthing colleague of hers vanishes, presumed murdered.
Noyce and Marc Rosenberg reworked an original script by Mark Stiles. Noyce evokes a palpable sense of place -- inner city Sydney, during a stifling and oppressive summer heat wave. Unfortunately the interweaving plot threads tangle before the end and finally unravel. Arson, prostitution, bullying, murder -- corruption reaches everywhere and almost everyone is tainted.The attempt to resolve the unsolvable results in a silly, far-fetched climax in a sex club on New Year’s Eve. The ending raises a stench that no amount of atmospheric set-ups, moody camerawork (by Vincent Monton), dramatic slow motion or fine performances (from Davis, Moir and Haywood) can dispel.