The Outlaw Michael Howe (2013)

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Released 15-Jan-2014

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Trailer-Madman Propaganda x 4
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2013
Running Time 77:33
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5 Directed By Brendan Cowell

Madman Entertainment
Starring Damon Herriman
Mirrah Foulkes
Rarriway Hick
Kevin MacIsaac
Darren Gilshenan
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music Roger Mason

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     Van Diemen’s Land, 1814. Convict Michael Howe (Damon Herriman) escapes with Aboriginal girl Black Mary (Rarriway Hick) and joins the outlaw gang led by John Whitehead (Kevin MacIsaac). The colony’s drunken governor (Darren Gilshenan) is ineffectual and the outlaws roam the region with seeming impunity, burning and looting. When Whitehead is killed Howe takes control of the gang that grows to 100 former convicts and threatens the security of the colony. As well, Howe has an unlikely ally; ex-convict Mrs. Maria Lord (Mirrah Foulkes), now the wife of the richest man in the colony but a woman with her own demons. But when a new, competent, governor is appointed he raises the reward for the capture or death of Howe whose world unravels in mistrust and betrayal.

     The Outlaw Michael Howe is based upon events which occurred in Van Diemen’s Land in 1814 – 15 and was made for TV, showing on the ABC on 1 December 2013. It is an interesting but strange film. In one sense, the film gives a realistic look at 19th century Tasmania; it is muddy, bloody and brutal, but in most other ways the film is more art house than history.

     As a film, The Outlaw Michael Howe provides little backstory, gives little sense of character or motivation and the plotting is fragmentary with events often seeming unconnected. Instead, the weight of the narrative is carried by the vision and the music. The Australian bush landscapes of The Outlaw Michael Howe (filmed both in Tasmania and NSW) are frequently stunningly beautiful but are mostly presented in dull, muted colours with very little colour, and indeed as the film progresses it loses more colour until the final sequences are almost grey and white. The score by Roger Mason is very noticeable within the audio mix. It is impressive and varied; using a range of styles including harpsichord, orchestra, electric guitar and both folk and modern sounding songs it fully augments the visuals.

     The short running time I suppose does not allow for much exposition or motivation yet even so The Outlaw Michael Howe sometimes feels like two films, especially in respect of the character of Maria Lord; this is often her story as much as it is Howe’s, and the two sections do not really fit together. The cohesion of the film is also not helped by the stilted dialogue delivery and some clichéd characters, such as the drunken governor, while the acting is also variable: Mirrah Foulkes does not convince but Damon Herriman is good and Rarriway Hick is compelling in every scene she is in.

     This is the first feature by writer / director Brendan Cowell, who is better known as an actor (Beneath Hill 60 (2010), The Slap (2011)). He shows undoubted promise; The Outlaw Michael Howe is well directed, brutal, moody and atmospheric with a strong element of bleakness and melancholy. It may or may not be history, but is well worth a look.

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Transfer Quality


     The Outlaw Michael Howe commences in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 during the opening sequence and then reverts to 1.78:1 for the rest of the film. I did not see the film when aired on TV and the IMDb contains no information on the original broadcast ratio however given the above, and some evidence of cropping in scenes, I suspect it was 2.35:1. The DVD is 16x9 enhanced. A mark has been deducted in accordance with site policy.

     This is a richly detailed print revealing all the mud, blood and grime of the period setting. The Australian bush landscapes are stunningly beautiful although the film has a deliberately dark palate with greys and browns dominant although as the film progresses it loses more colour until the final sequences are almost grey and white. Blacks were fine, shadow detail very good.

     The print did show some minor ghosting with movement but otherwise artefacts were absent.

     The layer change at 52:28 created a slight pause at a scene change.

    There are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     The only audio choice is English Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448 Kbps.

     The dialogue was clear and easy to understand even with some of the accents while the music was loud in the front speakers. This was deliberate: as noted the score and the visuals often carry the weight of the narrative in The Outlaw Michael Howe. The surrounds and rears did provide some ambient effects and music but the sound stage is very front oriented. The subwoofer added bass to the music and occasional effects, such as gunshots.

    Lip synchronisation was fine.

     The score by Roger Mason uses a range of instruments and styles including harpsichord, orchestra, electric guitar, and both folk and modern sounding songs. It was very effective.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Madman Propaganda

     Trailers for The Hunter (1:45), Van Diemen’s Land (1:54), Lucky Country (2:14) and Samson & Delilah (2:10).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Outlaw Michael Howe is not currently available in other regions.


     Shown on ABC TV, The Outlaw Michael Howe is based upon largely forgotten events that occurred in Van Diemen’s Land in the 1810s. At its strongest, the film is moody and atmospheric with a strong element of bleakness and melancholy although is more art house than history.

     The video and audio are reasonable; trailers for other films are the only extra.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Monday, March 31, 2014
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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