Noise DVD boxNoise is hardly an underrated film. It earned its makers a host of major nominations and some very handy wins. Yet, somehow, the rumble of critical acclaim wasn’t enough to launch the film with quite the stratospheric trajectory it seemed to deserve. Nevertheless, for those of us who simply missed out during its time in the cinema, there is now a 2-disc Madman release to let us in on what everyone else was so impressed by.

Director Matthew Saville grew up in Adelaide, attending the same high school as Scott Hicks, before joining the typical eastward migration to Melbourne, eventually studying film at VCA at the ripe old age of 29. After a steady career in the screen industry in various guises, Noise is his feature film debut. And a more accomplished debut is hard to imagine.

After the opening credits, which are set against a blurred and fidgeting nightscape, the first scene drops us into a familiar Melbourne world: the Flinders Street Station subway at night, a dank corridor to a distant platform, a young woman with big headphones wrapping her in a private world of sound. What follows is far from familiar – a film that is extraordinary in its chilling audacity and in its deep tension.

Saville wrote and directed the film but he is a wise collaborator as much as an auteur. His partner and composer, Bryony Marks, provides a brilliant score that is at times as scabrously atonal as Penderecki. His Hungarian-born cinematographer, László Baranyai, fills the crisp film stock with a short depth of field that keeps the action confrontingly immediate and dislocated. Sound designer Emma Bortignon’s brief, to convey the internal struggle of a tinnitus-sufferer, is unnervingly well-executed.

The onscreen talent is equally as important. Saville worked with several of the actors on earlier projects and you sense a common understanding of what the film is trying to achieve. Maude Davey, former Artistic Director of Vitalstatistix and a first-rate animateur, is blissfully believable in a minor role as a rollerblading policewoman, while Luke Elliot is an endearingly gelatinous hulk of grieving husband.

Brendan Cowell is, for want of a better term, the anti-hero of the story. A naturally intelligent presence, his character’s reserve and egotism suggest a mind unwilling to reveal its complexity to the simple world around it. Yet his character, a plodding policeman, is far from a bright spark. Cowell extends his vowel sounds into a drawl of apathetic, self-satisfied Australianness that grates itself against naïfs and sociopaths alike.

Though I’ve chosen not to expound it, the film’s plot is not so much a detective story as a thriller. Cowell is a protagonist in the way slow-moving astral bodies can be – he draws the cosmos to him with only a small desire to do anything about it. Yet, despite his faults, despite his sloth, he is redeemed both in his own eyes and the eyes of those around him.