Pawno - movie - review

Set in Footscray, Melbourne on a 40-degree day comes actor Paul Ireland’s directorial debut, Pawno.

Identified as a character piece, this story revolves around a pawn store and the many customers who visit Les (John Brumpton) and his disheveled-but-not-sure-why co-worker Damian (Danny Williams, also screenwriter). When anxious mother Jennifer (Kerry Armstrong) comes into the picture, the setup seems to suggest her situation could impact the narrative and tie the community together, but this is prevailed.

Often, I am drawn to character pieces knowing that a nuanced, interesting perspective could be at hand. Unfortunately, Pawno is not the case. You don’t get a natural feel for Footscray or the characters themselves. What comes across is a contrived Lonely Planet guide with too many personalities. Of course, it is important to present different personalities and themes to the norm, but subtlety and respect is imperative. There is no use in presenting characters who are “different” for the sake it of it. Yes, it may challenge the screen, but the tone suggests different; audience members laugh without being informed. When you think about it fundamentally, it hardly seems likely these grouped characters would statistically be so perverse.

Pawno is more interested in ticking all the right boxes to represent Melbourne, à la graffiti and trams, but as a concept, it doesn’t get to the real essence. Although Pawno does touch on multiculturalism, a solid part of Footscray, it doesn’t paint a picture of this diverse community. Perhaps for more commentary it would have been interesting to explore anxieties or points of interest from the characters with regards to multiculturalism. Or even gentrification, another factor that was hinted at by using a hipster bookstore compared to other spaces.

Pawno - movie

It is hard to say what didn’t gel here. It could arguably relate to actor interpretation or the direction itself, but Pawno ultimately suffers from not using natural, low-fi exploration, coming across as too self-aware of itself with Clerks-esque exchanges. Comparatively, when you watch a film like Snowtown, based in the Northern suburbs of Adelaide, the actors, except for one, were non-professional and helped add to the grime of the narrative. It is the way these non-professionals are able to speak on the inner workings of that community, not to mention director Justin Kurzel’s vision, that made Snowtown a standout.

While there were some enjoyable moments, too many were lost. I did enjoy Pauly (Mark Coles Smith) and Carlo (Malcolm Kennard) as a duo. They were, for lack of better words, junkies and surveyors of the street itself. Smith and Kennard work well together, and their wardrobe at least didn’t scream ‘junkie’. However, like the rest of the narrative, it would have been more powerful if it had given that slice of life reality without the frills.

In this case, it’s easy to wonder, what was actually the point here? It didn’t show the true vibe of the community from the locals or outsiders, or what it could mean economically, politically or socially to the viewer.