Top critical review
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charming Aussie comedy
on October 13, 2001
***1/2 ... I finally broke down and rented "The Dish," a true story about the small group of men working at a satellite dish in a remote section of Australia who, in July 1969, played a major part in helping to transmit the first live images of a man walking on the moon.
I'm happy to report that "The Dish" turns out to be a world-class charmer, a delightful film that captures the high-spirited innocence and optimism of the space race era and vividly recreates a time when people from all over the world could do little but stare in spellbound amazement at the achievements of which mankind proved itself capable - and feel the mutual pride and camaraderie that such events occasioned. The makers of "The Dish" dramatize this feeling of universal connectedness by showing how even the most remote, seemingly "insignificant" people could be made to feel a part of an event happening half a world away and commanding the attention of most of the planet's inhabitants. Here near the small town of Parkes, Australia, nestled in what is little more than a sheep pasture, looms the 1,000-ton satellite dish that will serve as the eye of the world for this event of monumental historic importance. The makers of the film have chosen to take a charming, low-key approach to the material, focusing on the likable, decidedly offbeat people who make up both the team at the dish as well as the citizenry of the nearby town. With the subtle quirkiness common to most Australian comedies, "The Dish" displays a real affection for its characters, showing them as flawed human beings who, nevertheless, learn to accept and cope with the differences that might otherwise separate them. Thus, even the simmering conflict between the American hotshot from NASA assigned to the dish and one of the more sensitive Aussie specialists plays itself out in a believable and touching way. Other characters defy the stereotypes that less gifted filmmakers might have enforced upon them. The mayor of the town, for instance, rather than being a self-congratulatory blowhard (as we fear he will become in the early parts of the film) turns out to be a sweet, gentle, family-loving man who is as overwhelmed by the world's spotlight being shone on his community as are the common folk who make up his constituents. Lending his star quality to the proceedings, Sam Neil gives a beautifully understated performance as Cliff Buxton, a recently widowed technician at the dish who manages to take all this hubbub in stride but who conveys, in gentle ways, the sheer awesomeness of the event in which he finds himself taking part. In fact, it is this sense of ordinary people suddenly finding themselves a part of history that makes "The Dish" more than simply a clever, likable comedy. We find ourselves genuinely touched and moved by much of what we see on screen.
Perhaps, after the tragedy of the World Trade Center attacks - during which people all over the world sat riveted in morbid fascination to their television sets watching that horrifying event unfold - the film attains an added poignancy. It reminds us a bit of our lost innocence as we see the people in this film staring spellbound at their television sets 32 years earlier for a far different purpose - to witness, as a united, worldwide community, the GOOD things mankind can do when he puts his mind to it rather than the evil. By dealing so warmly and gently with the people who make up this little corner of the world, "The Dish" lifts the spirits and renews the faith. ...