Acute Misfortune chronicles a period of time, where Archibald Prize Winning Artist Adam Cullen’s life was shadowed by aspiring journalist Erik Jensen who was invited in 2008 to live with Cullen and write his biography. Jensen spent four years with Cullen in a relationship that was tense and chaotic. Jensen was shot, pushed off of a moving motorcycle, and worked hard for a book contract that never existed. For both men it was a time of profound reflection. Following court appearances for weapons charges, Cullen died in 2012 at 46 years of age. Based on a true story, Acute Misfortune is a detailed and intimate look into the life of someone who is mercurial, eccentric, and at times, very irrational.
Daniel Henshall is Adam Cullen. Physically, Henshall is a great match for Cullen, and after doing a bit of research and watching some YouTube videos of Cullen himself, the significance of Henshall’s performance becomes greatly highlighted. Cullen was charismatic, alluring, and people were drawn to him. This was not because of super-good looks or because of Cullen’s fame, it was because of his enigmatic personality and his eccentric style. Henshall brings these traits to life on screen and holds your attention with them, entrancing you just as Cullen did in real life. Erik Jensen is played by Toby Wallace and is able to match Henshall’s performance. Jensen is vulnerable, committed, and easily manipulated by Cullen. Wallace’s delivers a confident performance that is gentle and reserved, portraying Jensen as if he’s almost lost and searching for his purpose in life – but he finds Cullen who may, or may not, provide some kind of life guidance.
The tone of Acute Misfortune is perfect, it’s a dark, deep and harrowing look into the lives of two men that are searching for their own truths and find each other. Director Thomas M. Wright has done a great job behind the camera with the script he co-wrote with Erik Jensen himself. Erik’s involvement in the film brought a certain truth to the mix, with Wright saying that much of the script was written with “real dialogue from Adams life” using interviews and Jensen’s notes. Cullen’s estate was also extremely generous, allowing Henshall to paint with Cullen’s actual paint and paintbrushes, and at times, even wearing Cullen’s clothes.
It’s clear that even in death Cullen is still drawing people in. Thomas M. Wright did not know much at all about Adam Cullen, and when he read a small excerpt from Jensen’s book in a weekend newspaper when it was published he “was so taken by it and thrown by it on a number of fronts”. Wright was left “fascinated by the relationship” between Cullen and Jensen and thought it was “an extraordinary relationship to talk about”.
I personally place a lot of importance on the entertainment value of a film, if I am not entertained, then no matter how good the film is in terms of plot, acting, score etc, I won’t really like it too much, or at the very least will never watch it again. Acute Misfortune taught me that it’s not always the entertainment factor that is most important, it can be the subject. Because this film did not entertain me one bit. It enthralled me. It seduced me. Cullen’s essence seemingly seeped through the screen, staying with me for the entirety of the film, and long after I had finished watching.
As discussed with Thomas M. Wright during my interview with him, this is a film that should be experienced in cinema, and he was right. Sadly, here in Adelaide there are no screenings of Acute Misfortune and when I contacted Event, Wallis and Hoyts cinemas, they were all too keen to keep it that way. Palace Nova Cinemas said “We’d love to screen this film, too”, so hopefully they get their wish. But for everyone not in Adelaide, I encourage you to get out and support this film. Acute Misfortune is an instant classic and an essential piece of modern Australian Cinema.
Director: Thomas M. Wright
Cast: Daniel Henshall, Toby Wallace, Max Cullen
Writers: Thomas M. Wright, Erik Jensen