In the first Australian feature film to showcase ‘Auslan’ (Australian sign language), writer/director Davo Hardy plays a sensitive writer named Reuben, who grapples with a speech impediment, as his profoundly deaf boyfriend Derek provides strategies and support to restore his confidence. Upon finding the courage to submit an autobiographical screenplay to his favourite actor, this new industry mentor betrays Reuben and he must use his new-found assertion to proactively find catharsis and personal justice. Here is our review of ‘A Silent Agreement’.
Over the past few years in cinema, there have been a number of complaints about the way disabilities and disabled people, in general, are portrayed on screen. In some ways these people have a point, take a look at the majority of James Bond villains for instance; Dr. No, Blofeld, Jaws, all these larger-than-life characters suffer from disabilities or life-changing scars, it is not a new thing. Where mainstream movies involving disabilities often fail is with the casting of able-bodied actors in the roles of disabled characters or with handicap actors in supporting roles and rarely taking lead status. It’s a thin line and an interesting argument which is for another discussion. All I can say is, if you have seen films like My Left Foot and The Theory of Everything, then you have witnessed in Daniel Day-Lewis and Eddie Redmayne two of the greatest screen performances by actors in the last thirty years.
A Silent Agreement is definitely not a mainstream movie, for starters both of its lead roles are characters who have disabilities. Reuben, played by Davo Hardy, suffers from a stutter while Derek (Joshua Sealy) is profoundly deaf. Also, both Reuben and Derek are gay and are involved in a loving and meaningful relationship with each other. So far, so ‘Indy’.
The movie has a few themes but at its heart, it is a love story. A romance between two men who need each other in order to make themselves better, like Yin and Yang. Reuben, due to his speech impediment, lacks the confidence and assertiveness to get what he wants while Derek, who is deaf and slightly rebellious, is very confident and brash. Derek believes Reuben should stop worrying and just get on with things and that he should learn to use sign language in order to combat his angst. In what is a similarity to recent Oscar winner The Kings Speech, Reuben’s speech impediment tends to disappear whenever he is chatting or signing with Derek
Most of the people who see this movie will be able to hear and, although they may welcome the challenge of a movie about a deaf person, they aren’t so interested that they want to experience deafness. This is why the scenes between the couple are so important. They are so smooth and natural that their respective disabilities are virtually invisible and the audience sees past them in order to see the person underneath. Great credit has to go to Davo Hardy for his direction in these moments, as he coaxes lovely performances out of himself and Josh Sealy, managing to highlight important issues with simple scenes.
As Reuben becomes more confident, Derek convinces him to send his recently finished autobiographical screenplay off to a down-on-his-luck yet still famous actor Gareth Donahue (Paul Mercurio) and then their lives change forever. A special mention must go to Paul Mercurio, who many of you will remember from his starring role in Baz Luhrman’s 90’s sleeper Strictly Ballroom. He is just brilliant here. As Gareth, he gives such an honest and truthful performance, free of ego and self-consciousness, that it is a pleasure to be reminded of his acting gifts. As he worries about his age, weight and career prospects we feel for him and, even though he does something pretty awful, we can actually relate and sympathise with him to some extent.
A Silent Agreement is a competent, professional drama that manages to make its points about love greed and betrayal quite well. I found the subject matter to be new and challenging. The fact it doesn’t use disability or homosexuality as a poignant gimmick was both welcome and hugely positive and, if you can catch A Silent Agreement when it comes to your town, you will certainly leave with a new found respect for members of the deaf community and people of all shapes and sizes who have to deal with disabilities every day.