(director/writer: Partho Sen-Gupta; cinematographer: Bonnie Elliott; editor: Annick Raoul; music: Eryck Abecassis; cast: Adam Bakri (Ricky, formerly Tariq), Danielle Horvat (Ameena Nasser), Rachel Blake (Joanne Hendricks), Damian Hill (Shane), Darina Al Joundi (Rana), Rebecca Breeds (Sally McLeary – Nasser), Abbey Aziz (Hanan Faour ), Russell Dykstra (Paul Koustakidis); Runtime: 116; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Michael Wrenn, Tenille Kennedy, Marc Irmer; Bonsai/Vita Films; 2018-Australia-France)

“It works as both a thriller and a thought-provoking social conscious film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Sydney-based expat Indian filmmaker Partho Sen-Gupta (“Sunrise”/”Let The Wind Blow”) is the auteur of this politically driven slow-burner suspense story, whose narrative is about Muslim immigrants in Australia trying to fit in. It tells a frightening story about the disappearance of a feisty young hijab wearing Palestinian woman in Sydney, named Ameena (Danielle Horvat). Slam tells us what we must hear about how the western world’s ‘war on terror’ raises questions on such things as racial hatred, outsiders in a foreign land and living in fear of terrorism. The film fairly points out how Islam and Muslims have frequently been treated as public enemies in the West, as it takes a hard look at race and gender relations in modern day Western Sydney while also being a police procedural crime story.

The title is derived from the angry politically-motivated slam poetry poem denouncing colonization, patriarchy and the abuse of power that Ameena delivers at a community center before her disappearance. It’s a poem written by the late Australian-Palestinian-Lebanese queer performer Candy Royalle. After the reading is well-received, Ameena is last seen in the dark street where a car seems to be following her and she’s never seen again.

When Ameena fails to return home at night after her slam poetry reading, her alarmed mother Rana (Darina Al Joundi) the next morning phones Ameena’s married brother Ricky (Adam Bakri, Palestinian actor), previously called Tariq, who has tried blending in as an Aussie while also retaining his Arab roots. He’s a cafe owner married to an Anglo woman (Rebecca Breeds), who is pregnant and they have two kids.

As the police now investigate when his search comes up empty, the media wildly speculate that because she’s Muslim Ameena could have been radicalized and left the country to join ISIS. At the time, adding to the heightened emotional fervor are the newspaper headlines that an Australian pilot has just been captured in the Middle East by ISIS.

Joanne (Rachael Blake) is the police officer who is assigned the Ameena case. She has her own personal internal conflicts, including a hostile ex-husband and a son she misses who was killed in the Middle East war. Because of their different outlooks there’s a natural distrust, and Joanne and Ricky clash. During this worrisome time, the tormented Ricky is left to ponder if he really has fit in to his adopted country and now must also deal with a marriage that has become strained because of all the stress.

Fueled by an excellent expressive performance by the lead actor and a compelling topical story on immigrants in Australia, it works as both a thriller and a thought-provoking social conscious film.


REVIEWED ON 10/29/2019     GRADE:  B