Before the world premiere of Sarah Spillane’s Around the Block at the Toronto International Film Festival, producer Brian Rosen predicted its young lead, Hunter Page-Lochard,  will become Australia’s premier indigenous filmmaker in the next 10 years.

That was a bold call but the initial reviews have heaped praise on Page-Lochard’s performance as Liam, a troubled high school student who is mentored by his American drama teacher (Christina Ricci).

“An attention-grabbing, potentially profile-elevating performance by up-and-comer Hunter Page-Lochard is the major selling point of Around the Block, an Aussie variation of the oft-spun scenario about an at-risk high-schooler who gets a shot at redemption through a transformative extracurricular activity,” opined Variety’s Joe Leydon.

“Christina Ricci claims top billing — and provides some modest marquee allure….But Page-Lochard is the one more likely to earn the critical plaudits that this well-intended yet cliché-ridden pic will need to have any chance in theatrical and home screen venues."

Leydon continued, "The filmmaker uses Liam’s crisis of conscience as the means to explore his deeply conflicted feelings of desire and dread, while Page-Lochard subtly and affectingly illuminates the often contradictory facets of the character."

It’s the first lead role for Page-Lochard, 20, the son of Bangarra Dance Theatre artistic director Stephen Page. Determined to broaden his skills, Hunter embarked on a screenwriting course at AFTRS after roles in The Sapphires and Bran Nue Dae.

Michael Wrenn's Greenlight Releasing is launching Around the Block, Spillane’s debut as writer-director, in Australian cinemas on November 7.

Canadian critic, Cinemablographer’s Pat Mullen, hailed Page-Lochard’s portrayal as the film’s “standout performance,” noting he is especially effective in scenes with his parents played by Ursula Yovich and Matt Nable.

The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney judged, “There’s considerable sensitivity and conviction in these performances, particularly Page-Lochard’s. But every single development in the family’s plot trajectory is telegraphed, and these actors deserve to be in a less emotionally bogus drama.”

Rooney derided the film as a “derivative collection of plot clichés lifted wholesale from 1990s black American cinema…. Boyz n the Hood meets Dangerous Minds with a fat dollop of Hamlet. Oh, and lesbian sex.”

Rosen, who produced with Su Armstrong, told IF the film was enthusiastically received by audiences in Toronto and every session was sold out. When Hunter was introduced after the screening he got a standing ovation.

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