After watching Martin Freeman in the overrated and disappointing Ghost Stories, I dialed up Netflix for his latest film, Cargo, for something to cleanse the palate, so to speak. With Ghost Stories and the bitter aftertaste of Terminal still swimming around in my psyche, cluttering up my thoughts, Cargo proved to be a good film to clean things up. Far from perfect, it features a very strong performance by Freeman, who even in bad films like Ghost Stories, manages to liven the proceedings.
Cargo starts right in the thick of a pandemic in Australia that has ravaged the country and sent people scurrying to the outback. Andy (Freeman) and his wife, Kay (Susie Porter) and their newborn daughter, Rosie they have taken to a houseboat and stayed on the river where it appears to be safer than on land. It is about as safe as they can be in a world where no one is safe. When circumstances dictate that Andy and his family ditch the boat for a car to get to a medical center, the game is changed and time for them, is running out.
Cargo was written and directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, both of whom released Jungle with Daniel Radcliffe lost in the Bolivian jungle last year. They also have worked on other films, mostly shorts, that deal with characters lost in the wild. Although, Cargo is, I believe their first feature length film in which they either write and/or direct it, as well. Having said that, this is a rather effective film. It is a zombie film, but it actually spends very little time on the zombies and the backdrop as to how the pandemic started. It instead, wisely, focuses on the characters stuck in a very bad situation trying to make sense of it all and survive.
Martin Freeman, as I said, is definitely the lead character of this film as he is in almost every scene. He does a marvelous job of balancing the madness surrounding him while still keeping his cool and maintaining his sanity. All he cares about is saving his daughter, Rosie. Freeman never overplays his desperation and is always believable without becoming schlocky or cheesy. It would be easy to overplay it and the film would harder to be taken seriously, but in Cargo, everything is underplayed and makes it more believable.
Along his way, Andy meets Vic (Anthony Hayes) and his would be girlfriend, Lorraine (Caren Pistorious). Vic offers Andy and his daughter safe haven but Andy has other plans, especially when he sees what Vic is all about. Andy’s next meeting is with an older woman, Etta (Kris McQuade) a saintly woman who has her own illness to tend to, but is more than willing to help Andy care for his daughter. Etta is a tired soul whose time is limited even in the context of the premise of this film, but she tries to do right by Andy and Rosie. Andy and Rosie’s final meeting is a young Aboriginal girl named Josie (Natasha Wanganeen) who proves to be the only one able to get Andy and Rosie to where they need to be. It is a sweet and innocent performance by Ms. Wanganeen.
There are some other plot points, I have neglected to mention because they would reveal some spoilers and I don’t want to ruin it for those who want to see Cargo. Some work and some are less effective and the pacing in the final act seems to lag. But Cargo knows that it is the characters that make a film work. The right characters with the proper writing makes them compelling and interesting. That is the case with Cargo. They make you care about Andy and his family. Freeman is perfectly cast and makes Cargo worth your while. In a sea of zombie films that all seem spawned off of The Walking Dead, Cargo distinguishes itself as an above-the-average zombie flick that has more to say about humanity than others in this genre. It is not a big or flashy film, but a quietly somber film and on that note Cargo succeeds.
Cargo – **** out of 5
Cargo – Rated R for language, graphic gore and violence
Cargo – Run time is 106 minutes
Cargo is now available on Netflix and other subscription services.