Movie Review: A gambling Dad gets a handle on his problem via his son in “West of Sunshine”

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An honest movie a about a “problem” gambler never blinks. It does not shy away from the ruin addiction can bring to your life, the soul-crushing compromises that come with that addiction, the lies that pile up with every “I promise” made to bookies, friends, lovers and family.

Such a film may give us a taste of the momentary buzz of “getting even.” But it never lets you see that gambler get ahead and stay ahead.

“West of Sunshine” is an Aussie day-in-the-life drama, a father (Damian Hill), kicked out of his house, stuck with child-care responsibilities for a long day of pretty much everything except what he’s supposed to be doing — delivering packages.

But whatever predictable, melodramatic turns this Jason Raftopoulos film takes, it rarely blinks and never gives itself over to the “romance” of gambling and the gambler’s lifestyle.

Jimmy used to be a mechanic. Now he drives for Golden Messenger courier service. He’s a bad courier driver. He couldn’t be on time if his life depended on it.

He’s a bad father. He’s late picking up his rebellious teen Alex (Ty Perham), even though his disapproving not-quite-ex (Faye Smith) expects no less.

There are just a few constants in Jimmy’s life. He’s held on to his father’s 1968 Ford Fairlane ZA (Australian) muscle car. He won’t quit gambling. And he won’t stop lying — about why he’s late (the man lacks urgency in all things), about “Pay you back every cent, promise.”

Every time he says “promise,” to his wife, his son, his work-pal (Arthur Angel) and his former employer and loan shark (Tony Nikolakopoulos) you wince a little.

He’s always “gonna square this whole thing.” And today his plan is, win enough at the horse track to get even. A mop-topped son who has nightmares about “a man coming into my room,” who runs down Jimmy’s phone playing video games and who finds other ways to act out as Jimmy interrupts work for meals, side hustles, trying to palm Alex off on his girlfriend (Eliza D’Souza) doesn’t really figure into those plans.

Jimmy is “in the moment,” he’s got a sure thing in Race #6.

“How do you know?”

“I just KNOW.”

What Jimmy is might better be described as irresponsible, self-absorbed, delusional with just a hint of stupid.

During their day together, he scores cash. Which he keeps just long to brag to one and all (including the indulgent loan shark) before blowing it.

“I was thinking I could win some more.”

“Of course you did.”

He leans on exes and a pal for a loan to save his neck. Using everyone around him is second nature, now.

“I can’t. I can’t.”

So that’s what he’s teaching Alex, how to not plan ahead, how to be careless and self-indulgent in the extreme. Other lessons?

“Can’t stand redheads, mate. One thing you’ll learn.”

A pretty woman crosses the street — “Alex….boobs.”

And on lunch break, the real teachable moment.

“Ever heard of Blackjack?”

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Hill and Perham have good chemistry, and I reveled in the way “West of Sunshine” doesn’t so much hit rock bottom as introduce us to a guy already there. He just doesn’t know it. He’s got to wallow in it a while longer to figure it out.

Hill gives Jimmy the odd flash of self-awareness, but he plays this guy as a 40 year-old still re-learning the life lessons of 22.

Actor turned writer-director Raftopoulos doesn’t surprise us here. The characters are variations on character “types,” and the supporting players are hard-pressed to make much of them.

Raftopoulos is content to narrow his story to the last lap or two of Jimmy’s downward spiral, to rummage around rock bottom and let Jimmy figure out what we’ve long ago guessed.

The filmmaker takes on the role of loan shark, in a way. He puts his boot on Jimmy’s neck and keeps it there, and makes entertainment out of us waiting for Jimmy to notice that boot, and figure out how to get it off his neck.

2half-star6

MPAA Rating: Unrated, drug use, physical violence, profanity

Cast:  Damian Hill,Ty Perham, Kat Stewart, Faye Smith, Eliza D’Souza, Arthur Angel, Tony Nikolakopoulos

Credits: Written and directed by Jason Raftopoulos. An Uncork’d release.

Running time: 1:18

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