A war veteran and single father struggles to raise his son years after the death of his wife in Transfusion, a slow-moving but well-crafted drama now available on Australian streaming service Stan. A powerhouse central performance from star Sam Worthington injects some real life into what occasionally feels like a routine narrative.
Transfusion is the directorial debut for Matt Nable, an actor known to international audiences from films like Hacksaw Ridge and Riddick. Nable also penned the screenplay, and has given himself a showy supporting role, but wisely focuses the film on its central father-son relationship.
Worthington plays Ryan Logan, a stoic Iraq War sniper who takes a bullet to the neck in an opening flashback. Years later, he’s out hunting deer with his son Billy (played by Gilbert Bradman at the age of eight), who refuses to pull the trigger and feels a sense of shame in front of his father. Later on, Billy asks his dad if he’ll be as brave as him one day.
“You didn’t want to shoot the deer, and you stood up to me,” Worthington’s dad tells him. “You already are brave.”
Ryan’s life is upended by the death of pregnant wife Justine (Phoebe Tonkin) in a tragic car accident. We pick up with the father and son eight years later, as a 16-year-old Billy (Edward Carmody) appears before a court for his latest transgression and Ryan moves the pair back to their hometown for his latest chance at a job.
Ryan wants to do the best for his son, but can’t seem to get through to him. After Billy gets himself into more trouble, dad finds himself in the need of some quick cash to bail him out. That involves getting mixed up with old friend and fellow veteran Johnny (Nable), and stealing from the wrong kind of people.
Anyone looking for action will leave Transfusion unsatisfied; a climactic firefight packs a punch, but the focus is clearly placed on the effects violence has on the people that perpetuate it. Nable takes a dispassionate, matter-of-fact approach to the action scenes; like his characters, he allows the audience no joy in the bloodshed.
Transfusion is a quiet, affectionate film about characters who have built up a tough exterior but haven’t lost their humanity; it quite beautifully contrasts the struggle of a war veteran father and his teenage son, who are struggling to process trauma in different ways but are far more similar than either of them realize.
Worthington has had lead roles in Avatar and its sequel and other Hollywood blockbusters like Terminator Salvation, and Clash of the Titans, and gone through personal struggles over the past decade himself. But Transfusion gives him the chance to prove his worth as an actor, and he commands the screen with a soulful and deeply empathetic performance. His character’s struggle is most vividly realized through an interaction with a rude customer, and later his sympathetic boss; you want to reach through the screen to reassure him.
Transfusion is not a perfect film, and subplots with Billy’s new group of friends and Johnny’s underworld activities feel particularly underwritten. But when it sticks to the central characters and their relationship, it works. There’s an ambiguous, haunting quality to Transfusion‘s final scenes between father and son that packs a real punch.