Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Featuring:||Meryl Streep, Sam Neill|
This film is upsetting because it’s a true story of the danger of gossip. Although I’ve given it a low moral rating, I consider it worthwhile as a documentary.
While Australian Seventh-Day Adventist pastor Michael Chamberlain (Sam Neill) and his family are sightseeing at Ayers Rock, a dingo (Australian wild dog) steals their two-month-old baby when they leave her alone for a minute. Although the first inquest rules that Mrs. Chamberlain’s (Meryl Streep) dingo account is true, there’s a lot of popular indignation and tongue-wagging over the case. Some law-enforcement officials, motivated either by a belief that the Chamberlains are guilty or by public criticism of their prior handling of the incident, find new witnesses and new forensics “experts” and reopen the investigation. Eventually the Chamberlains are charged with murder. Once the ball is rolling, lots of far-out circumstantial evidence is added. Pastor Chamberlain keeps a small wooden coffin in his church; whenever he preaches against tobacco use, he uses it as an “offering plate” for people to throw their cigarettes into. That coffin, and a Bible found near to it and opened to a passage referring to sacrifice, become evidence of intent. So does the baby’s unusual name, which some people claim has a sacrificial meaning. The case drags on for several years before being resolved.
The acting is convincing; Neill grew up in New Zealand, and Streep is the queen of accents. Some of the Australian English vocabulary is confusing at first, but eventually becomes familiar. Unlike in many films where Bible-believers are portrayed as hokey, the Chamberlains are shown as good people wronged by the bigotry of others.
Profanity is heavy for a non-R-rated film; there are about a dozen uses of f* and all the other usual bad language, plus some negative religious comments which are not specifically anti-SDA, but could have been aimed at anyone who believes the Bible literally. Violence is mild; the dingo attack is shown discreetly. The dramatic intensity is unnerving; the Chamberlains struggle with the question of why their baby was killed and think about how they could have looked after her better, all the while being hounded by paparazzi on their doorstep and in helicopters. Of the 450 speaking parts in this film, one whole screenful in the closing credits-30 characters-are billed as “Gossipers;” that’s in addition to the public officials and media folks who are part-time gossipers.
The Bible gives many warnings against gossiping, talebearing and being a false witness. Here are a few: Ex. 20:16, 23:1; Lev. 19:16; Ps. 15:1-3, 34:13, 101:5; Pr. 11:9, 13:3, 16:28, 18:8, 19:9, 21:23, 24:28; 25:18, 26:20-22; 1 Tim. 5:13; Titus 3:2; Jas. 1:26, 3:6; 1 Pet. 2:1, 3:10, 4:15.