There is trouble ahead for the residents of one of Sydney's most rundown areas where they live in government housing. Property developers wish to send them packing, knock down their homes, and rebuild a revolutionary new housing complex for those rich enough to afford the new apartments, and for activist Kate Dean (Judy Davis) that is going too far. As she attempts to rustle up support for the beleaguered residents, the architect behind the scheme, Stephen West (Richard Moir) is sent into a state of worry: is his project really worth all this? Is it worth human lives?
Phillip Noyce had been riding high off the success of Newsfront, but for his second film, after an aborted attempt to helm Attack Force Z, he opted for a far more overtly political work. Heatwave was based on an original script about the property troubles afflicting Australia's cities which would play out as class conflict between those who had a lot of money at stake in redevelopment and those who were put in the position of finding somewhere new to live - needless to say, not in the expensive brand new homes that were to be constructed.
There then arose a conspiracy angle in the 1970s with the disappearance of leading activist for the underprivileged Juanita Nielson, who was widely thought to have been murdered by the money men's thugs and buried in the foundations of one of the new buildings, although as her body was never found it's impossible to say for sure. This story not only provided the impetus to make Heatwave, but another film along similar lines, The Killing of Angel Street; in the event, it was Noyce's film which garnered most of the attention. It begins as a political drama, but soon transforms into a paranoid thriller for which some background information on the context can be handy.
In this film it's not Davis's Kate Dean who disappears, although her character is closest to Nielson's being a rich girl who grew more politicised, but her partner in crusading Mary Ford (Carole Skinner). There are strong hints that Kate will be next on the hitlist when she anonymously receives a funeral wreath with her name on it, and with the temperature of the Sydney summer going sky high (all of the characters are sheened in sweat at least part of the time) the tension in the air is palpable. Kate is by far the most interesting person in the film, so it's unfortunate so much time has to be spent with the somewhat emotionally constipated West.
His Eden Project, based around the concept of a huge tree, doesn't look especially promising, but there's a lot of money in it and there might be some sinister machinations going on behind the scnenes to ensure that it goes ahead. Well, actually there's no "might" about it, and a European businessman who specialises in "men's entertainment" keeps badgering West to design some new clubs for him - could it be his henchmen bringing strong arm tactics to bear on the plucky residents standing in the way? In truth, Heatwave is a very talky film, a fact which Noyce tries to hide by making everyone speak very earnestly and shooting every scene as if there were something awful about to happen. Which there is. Too complex to entirely catch up with on first viewing, it's an intelligent thriller nonetheless even if it probably meant more in its native land. Music by Cameron Allan.