https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=10271&reviewer=104

Tom White

Reviewed By Stephen Groenewegen
Posted 07/27/04 13:47:35

"Street life"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

What makes a homeless person? Why would an accomplished, middle class career man decide not to return home, without a word of explanation to his wife and kids? An absorbing new Australian drama explores these questions.

In his bland but well-appointed suburban Melbourne house, Tom White (Colin Friels) is the picture of the middle-aged workaholic. Roused by the alarm clock, no time for long-suffering wife Helen (Rachael Blake) or the kids, always working late at the office. Why is Tom never home when his architect boss ordered him off his latest drafting project three weeks ago? Told to take time away to “freshen up”, Tom instead heads straight to the nearest bar, drinks too much beer, abuses his colleagues and suffers a meltdown.

It simply becomes easier, and less humiliating, to stay away from home than ask friends or family for help. Days turn into weeks and then months. Tom unwittingly undertakes a two-year nomadic odyssey through society’s underclass. His only companions are the lonely and dispossessed. He befriends a barely teenage graffiti artist (Jarryd Jinks), sentimental rent boy (Dan Spielman), lordly veteran of the streets (Bill Hunter) and fairground worker Christine (Leone Carmen), who is stalked by her thuggish ex-dealer (David Field).

Screenwriter Daniel Keene is also a playwright, and Tom White is structured like a play. New characters are rarely introduced until the last has exited stage left. The dialogue is sometimes theatrical - flowery and poetic - rather than that of everyday conversation. This occasionally distracts, as when Tom and Christine interrogate each other with philosophical riddles in a pub.

There’s a satisfying unity in the structure, with Tom and the male cast-offs he meet representing four stages of man (boy, youth, adult and old age). Alkinos Tsilimidos (Everynight... Everynight, Silent Partner) frames the action imaginatively and directs with passion and vigour. The film is visually marvellous too, thanks to Toby Oliver’s beautifully lit photography. Despite shooting mostly at night, the look is crisp and sharp and never drab or dismal.

Tsilimidos extracts first-rate performances from an impressive cast. Rachael Blake performs a quiet miracle as Helen, expressing pain, resignation, strength and fragility with minimal dialogue. Dan Spielman makes for a convincingly insecure gay man and is almost unrecognisable from his charismatic leading turn in One Perfect Day. Bill Hunter contributes his best work in ages, and it’s terrific to see Leone Carmen, who started out with Noah Taylor and Ben Mendelssohn in 1987’s The Year My Voice Broke, given another decent film role.

Tom White belongs to Colin Friels. Friels is a performer of intense, almost manic, energy and he offers a spirited, physical portrayal of a man who comes alive after staring into the abyss. Friels conveys a desperate man in circumstances of which few of us have direct experience. The film works because Friels never loses his sense of reality or goes over the top. We can always relate to Tom, even if we cannot relate to his predicament.

Tom White is about a man unravelling and re-discovering himself, but Keene and Tsilimidos are not interested in any trite triumph of the homeless human spirit tale. Nor is Tom White about rubbing our noses in guilt or despair. Instead, it offers an engaging human story. It might even make you look at the next homeless face you encounter on the street with wonder and compassion, rather than ignorance.

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