Short Starts presents a weekly short film(s) from the start of a filmmaker or actor’s career.
With the role of Tom Buchanan in Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby, actor Joel Edgerton continues his rise in stardom. He even has a couple of character posters to show for his fame. Long before he was embodying a character from classic American literature, though, and long before he was hunting Osama Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty and fighting his brother in The Warrior and even playing Darth Vader’s stepbrother in the Star Wars prequels, he was a regular figure in the short subjects scene.
We can thank part of this on his nationality, as Australia is a great country for short films (it’s home of Tropfest, after all). On top of that, he came up through the film collective known as Blue-Tongue Films, alongside his writer/director/stuntman brother Nash (who is Joel’s double in Gatsby) and filmmakers David Michôd (Animal Kingdom) and Spencer Susser (Hesher). Joel made his film debut in Blue-Tongue’s first work, a nine-minute film from 1996 titled Loaded, which is directed by Nash with writer Kieran Darcy-Smith.
I thought about simply posting that early baby-faced short start from the actor, but seeing as he’s in so many shorts, most of which are online, I’ve sampled five of his first appearances after the jump, two of which aren’t Blue-Tongue productions, all of which feature Joel pre-beard and pre-bulk.
Joel is also credited as a producer on this black and white film, in which he plays a young goon named Frog. Nash plays his mate, Richard. The two of them are making a deal to buy a gun, but they suddenly change plans and things get out of hand. The interesting thing about this one, aside from the fact that 22-year-old Joel looks about 12, is that you think the Edgertons are the good guys. Well, maybe they are, but you think they’ll end up on top. Sorry to spoil it, but this isn’t some sort of twist-based short. It’s just the kind of crime film Blue-Tongue makes, where the plot doesn’t go down predictably as you’d think.
In addition to producing and acting again, with this Blue-Tongue film Joel is also credited as having co-written the screenplay with director Darcy-Smith. It’s another family-oriented crime film, somewhat reminiscent of what we’d later see in Animal Kingdom, except that here we’re dealing with a comparatively weak clan. Again, it’s not a predictable plot, in part because we don’t really get the whole story of what’s going on. Even at 26 minutes, this feels like it could be part of something bigger. Yet it’s also got a nice tone with tight performances and strong action camerawork. It’s just a bite but a satisfying taste.
My favorite film in this sampling (let’s just go ahead and call it the Joel Edgerton Short Film Festival) is this 15-minute non-Blue-Tongue effort from writer-director Peter Carstairs. It’s a sleepier sort than the rest, consisting mainly of Joel’s “city boy” character sitting on a bench with two other mates who accuse him of drunkenly leaving a ranch gate open and letting loose the sheep. It’s all dialogue and is nearly a punchline-kind of film. It reminds me somewhat of something the McDonagh brothers (In Bruges; The Guard) would make, especially given that the mate to his right looks from a distance like a character Colin Farrell would play in a Martin McDonagh film.
The Pitch (2001)
Basically this appears to be a bumper for Tropfest, though it also seems to have played other film festivals. Joel, who co-wrote the very short short with brother Nash (who directed), can be seen in brief shots. We can also see Darcy-Smith (the one with the chainsaw) and — blink and you’ll miss her, Rose Byrne, as the gun-toting girl in the car. Just from the bits and pieces cut into this film about a production pitch we can wonder when the Blue-Tongue guys are really going to get to make a huge Hollywood blockbusters.
Saturn’s Return (2001)
Last but not least is the other non-Blue-Tongue production, a made-for-TV short written by Christos Tsiolkas and directed by Wenona Byrne. Joel shows some skin in a love scene here as one half of a gay couple. They go to visit Joel’s character’s parents, unknowingly to witness his ailing father’s suicide. Five years after his debut in Loaded, Joel still looks like just a kid here (he must have later grown the beard especially to look older), but his acting talent has definitely matured. This was right before he broke out internationally by playing Owen Lars in Attack of the Clones and it’s clear he was now ready to make that leap into the big time.
Joel Edgerton has appeared in a ton of shorts since these five early films. He’s even directed a couple (The List and Monkeys) and done voice work for some animated shorts, including Oscar nominee The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello. Watch that on Vimeo. And look for the rest of his stuff around the web. Blue-Tongue has a YouTube channel featuring most (all?) of their shorts, so start there.