In 2004, Cameron Doomadgee, a resident of an Aboriginal community in Queensland’s Palm Island, was arrested after swearing at police. Forty-five minutes later he was dead in custody, with injuries consistent with a severe beating. The arresting officer, a 6’ 7’’ tall senior sergeant named Chris Hurley, denied any wrongdoing, but after an investigation – one that was hampered by extensive media coverage and frequent accusations of bias and corruption – Hurley was eventually charged with manslaughter. Based on the non-fiction book by Chloe Hooper, The Tall Man offers a thorough documentation of Doomadgee’s tragic death and the subsequent trial, but in other respects feels somewhat lacking.
Director Tony Kravitz has crafted a film that is elegant looking and expertly edited, but one that also feels somewhat rote in its storytelling. The interviews subjects – who include a police union representative, a pro-bono lawyer and various members of Doomadgee’s family and community – all offer surface insight into the events of Doomadgee’s death. But Kravitz rarely pushes them further, never asking the hard questions that really needed to be asked. The dark storm-cloud of Australian race relations hangs heavily over the entire film, but Kravtiz seems more interested in recounting the story than exploring the issues behind it. As a result, The Tall Man plays more like a vaguely exploitative mystery than it does a social indictment of any kind.
The story of Cameron Doomadgee and Sergeant Christopher Hurley is a tragic one. But without much of a thesis, and running only seventy-nine minutes long, the movie about it feels more like a television doco than it does a theatrical film.
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