Kiss or Kill

Film Information

Cast: Frances O'Connor as Nikki
Matt Day as Al
Chris Haywood as Detective Hummer
Andrew S. Gilbert as Detective Crean
Barry Otto as Adler Jones
Max Cullen as Stan
Barry Langrishe as Zipper Doyle
Director: Bill Bennett
Scripted: Bill Bennett (with assistance of the Australian Film Commission)
Classification: Thriller (MA)
Run Time: Approximately 96 minutes
Producers: Bill and Jennifer Bennett
Co-producer: Corrie Soeterboek
Executive Producers: Mikael Borglund and Gary Hamilton (Beyond Films)
Financed by: Australian Film Finance Corporation
Cinematographer: Malcolm McCulloch
Editor: Henry Danger
Sound Design: Wayne Pashley and Toivo Lember
Production Design: Andrew Plumer
Australian Release: 11 September 1997
United States Release: 14 November 1997
Australian Distributor: New Vision
National Box Office: $700,148.00
Awards: Best Actress (Frances O'Connor), Montreal Film Festival, 1997 Best Sound (Wayne Pashley and Toivo Lember), Montreal Film Festival, 1997 Best Supporting Actor (Andrew S. Gilbert), Australian Film Industry, 1997 Best Picture, Australian Film Industry, 1997 Best Director (Bill Bennett), Australian Film Industry, 1997

Interview with Bill Bennet

- adapted from Andrew L. Urban "A Heart Still Beating", Cinema Papers, May 1997, No. 116.

The idea for Kiss or Kill was born in a barn, wasn't it?

Yes. I was at Broken hill in a shearing shed during the making of Backlash in 1986... all morning, he (a crew member who befriended Bill) had been playing with this big-bladed Rambo knife which he had bought... . Then he stopped and he looked at me with this very clear gaze and he said, "Bill, I could cut your throat. I could put your body underneath these floorboards here and, when the rest of the crew came back, I could tell them that you'd gone for a walk down by the creek. No one would ever know." He held that gaze and in that moment I discovered that in fact I really didn't know this man. I didn't know whether or not he was serious or whether he was joking ... . Anyway, he burst out laughing. The moment was forgotten for him, but it stayed with me. That really was the genesis of Kiss or Kill; that somebody I thought I knew, somebody I was good friends with, could have a side of his personality that I just could not fathom.

But that insightful moment in the woolshed was tougher to nurture to film than you had anticipated.

I wrote over a long time... . In 1993, I finally just threw it against the wall and I said, "I can't do it. It's taken too much out of my life." I was at the point where I would say to Jennifer (Bill's wife), "I'm going to do another draft of Kiss or Kill", and she would scream at me. She would say, "No, don't!" So I dropped it and I started work on Spider and Rose (1994). I really didn't think that I would ever come back to Kiss or Kill.

But you did.

Well, yes. Pierre Rissient (cinema advocate and Cannes Film Festival consultant) had been following the thing for some time, and in early 1996, when he was here, took me out to dinner urging me to go back to it. He in fact had been a very strong supporter of Two If By Sea and had been surprised at the negative critical response to that... . So I sat down and realised that what in fact had been shackling me on Kiss or Kill is that I'd been intellectualizing too much. So, I just threw everything away. I sat down one day and just wrote the script in three weeks, not referring to anything that I'd written prior.

The script is well thought out and even contains come specific dialogue, but there is a lot of improvisation required by the actors. In Kiss or Kill, is that any more or less than with your other films?

Backlash was improvised. There were bits of A Street to Die (1985) that were improvised. Obviously, Mortgage and Malpractice (tele-features, 1989)... were improvised. This is actually a very controlled film. I mean, it's a bit of a misnomer really, or it's probably a little bit misleading, when people talk about an improvised film...

How would you pitch the film in a few words?

Two young hustlers, they're lovers, on the run from the cops, going across the Nullarbor. In each town in which they spend the night, there is a murder, and each begins to think the other is the killer. That was my basic premise for the film...

How did the characters arrive - because they were the ones that drove the script - when you sat down to write this final, new and totally different version?

It's funny, you know: the one them that kind of inspired me through the 10 years has been the Bruce Springsteen song, "Born to Run"... You know, the whole notion of this them: working-class kids who you know are criminals but they do have a line beyond which they don't cross, and for them to find themselves in circumstances where suddenly everything starts to spin out of control...

We do see glimpses into their past which rounds them out as characters. We do understand them and we even like them as people.

Jennifer and I cast Matt (Day) and Frances (O'Connor) for that very reason, because we knew that on paper they're pretty unlikable people really. They do pretty dastardly things, but what Matt and Fran have brought to it is certainly what I require as a director: a wonderful humanity and empathy for them (their characters). I didn't want to go the Natural Born Killers (Oliver Stone, 1994) route. We needed to understand that, yeah, they've ripped people off, but there is a reason for it. There is a social and political reason for it and that within their framework they still draw the line. For instance, they get to a place where people are helping them, and the character played by Matt tries to steal some jewelry. Frances' character says, "No, you don't steal from these people."

Those humanizing elements and the things that all your cast bring to this film: How much of that in the overall scheme of things is crucial to the movie?

Oh, it's fundamental to me... Chris Haywood, for instance, is playing a role that I've not seen him play before: a very precise, controlled, steely detective, and yet one that still has that undercurrent of empathy and warmth which, when you talk to these cops, they do.

What about the look of the film?

Kiss or Kill has what I call a heartbeat. I call it a jagged, fractured look, because it's a jagged, fractured story. I wanted to do this film unconventionally in the sense that I wanted to make filmmaking exciting for myself again, because I got a bit jaded doing the Hollywood picture... Instead of doing conventional coverage, we'd shoot from slightly different angles and change focal lengths marginally. You know, throw continuity out of the window and just do this very fractured, jumpy kind of thing. I do refer to it as a heartbeat, because at times in the movie we do cover it more conventionally, at the time when the heartbeat is slow, and there are other times when the adrenaline is pumping, and the film jump-cuts all over the place. It just seems appropriate for the film.

Other Interviews with Bill Bennett and Related Crew

- Kiss or Kill, Interview in Urban Cinefile

- Kiss or Kill, Features in Urban Cinefile,

- Kiss or Kill, Beyond Films On Line,

"With the help of creative consultant Jennifer Bennett, Bill found his dream cast: "We got our first choices," she says. They would respond well to improvising the dialogue, given that Bill was always there to give them support - because it can be frightening for the actors."

" "Working with Bill calls for patience and understanding," says Chris Haywood, who won the Best Actor AFI award for his starring role in Bill's first feature film, A Street to Die (1985)... Chris has a very high regard for the director: "He's an extraordinary film maker. I would've done it for just a walk on part... you know it won't be easy - but it's innovative film making." "

"This style is pretty well in Bill's professional genes, from his earliest days as a current affairs journalist on television, through the award winning dramatised documentaries - both for television and feature films, which he has made in the past 23 years or so."

"Working on Kiss or Kill with Bill Bennett has been "the hardest acting I've ever done," says Matt. "And everything I've wanted out of acting. What this has done for me is build up confidence that your ideas are valid and worthwhile," he says of Bill's improvisational method, "especially in highly charged emotional scenes."

"Bill wanted to know if I knew anything about tracking," says John Clarke of his audition for the role of Possum Harry in Kiss or Kill. "Yeah, I said, around these parts... I have a lot of relations around here, and know it well."

Bibliographical Reviews

- Kiss or Kill, Beyond Films On Line,

- Kiss or Kill, Reviews in Urban Cinefile,

"This is a striking film, with a great sense of pace that helps propel the action, both internally for the characters and the plotline. From its opening sequences of a smalltime scam going wrong, to the climactic outback chase, Kiss or Kill is edgy and unpredictable, giving us terrific cinematic pleasure."

"Richly textured, energetic and exhilarating road movie. Tense, darkly funny, visually intoxicating. The film is a masterpiece of contemporary Australian cinema..."

"This film reminds me of a piece of nice Swiss cheese. Its full of holes, ragged on the edges, smells a bit, and is totally enjoyable... Luckily, director Bill Bennett never lets you stop to think about the film as it races along, and even if you had time, you'd be too mesmerized by Frances O'Connor to care."

Sources and Links







- Cinema Papers, 1997

- Encore, 1997

Searching for Details

Searching for information in the library proved to be a little difficult as the film Kiss or Kill is a relatively new film and there were not much publications about it. Beside Cinema Papers and Encore, which has a brief coverage of it. I could not find any other articles, journals or books that were written about it. However, searching through the web proved to be less tedious. Perhaps due to its credibility and popularity, there were considerably many web sites on Kiss or Kill, Bill Bennett, Cast and Crew. However, the information was generally similar and there were only a review found. Many of the review sites were inaccessible, there were often messages like "error" or "web site not available, please click to referring page", etc. On the whole, information searching was fruitful but time consuming.

Critical Review

Set on the Nullarbor Plain west of Adelaide in South Australia, it talks about Nikki (O'Connor) and Al (Day), who are lovers and partners in crime, create their own job opportunity - Nikki would pick up married men in bars, takes them to a motel and drugs them, and Al would show up and steals everything. However, their last victim, Paulie, dies on them, and as a result, they hit the road across the barren Nullarbor, carrying a stolen video that implicates Zipper Doyle (Barry Langrishe), a famous footballer, in child sex. Meanwhile, Detectives Hummer (Chris Haywood) and Crean (Andrew S. Gilbert), and the threatened Zipper Doyle are hot on their tail.

Al and Nikki settle in a lonely faded motel owned by an eccentric womaniser called Stan (Max Cullen) while fleeing from the city cops. While having dinner of fondue with Al and Stan, Nikki accidentally burns herself which triggers a long sublimated memory of the murder of her mother - set alight by her father. That night, Al finds her outside, sleepwalking. By morning, the motel owner is dead. Nikki suspects that Al could have killed Stan while robbing him, while Al thinks Nikki could be the murderer in her sleepwalking.

Meanwhile, Detective Hummer and Crean engage the help of an Aboriginal tracker named Possum Harry (John Clark). On the other hand, Nikki and Al met Adler Jones (Barry Otto), who gives them a place for shelter, and his wife, Bel (Jennifer Bennett). Again, Nikki sleepwalks and the following morning, Al finds Adler and his wife dead in their bed. Al knocks Nikki out, ties her and takes her to a dilapidated shack, each firmly believes that the other is the killer.

During the night, Nikki sleepwalks again but in the whilst of sleepwalking, she tries to set alight Al. He wakes her up and she realises that she nearly kills the man she loves and she faints. The next morning, the cops, aided by the tracker, discovers the couple and arrested them.

Al, who loves Nikki despite of her past, keeps mum about the murders. Nikki, on the other hand, is convinced that she is the murderer and does not want to get Al involved, confesses to the murders. Meanwhile, Hummer and Crean find Zipper's pedophile video and decide to use Nikki and Al as baits to catch Zipper.

Zipper, though, outsmarts the cops and forces Nikki and Al at gunpoint into his car. He dies in a roadblock crash. Nikki and Al are acquitted after the cops find insufficient evidences to charge them of murdering Paulie. Possum also pointed out that the murders of Stan and Bel are done by Adler, who thinks that they are having an affair (Adler committed suicide). Nikki and Al then start a new life.

Kiss or Kill is indeed an unique thriller with its on visual and musical heartbeat. It is edgy and unpredictable and it gives a tremendous sense of cinematic pleasure. This edginess is "pursued by Bennett with his decision to use no music whatever", this is to deliberate moods of tension and uncomfortability for the audiences (Urban, The breaking away from continuity of actions brings about the evolution of shorthand jump cut editing (missing a few connecting frames). This jagged effect of jump cut editing creates heightened tension between the characters and the audiences. For a moment, audiences do not have time to draw breath, in fact the hearts beat wildly.

The limit to amount of lenses, with nothing shot on long lens, also makes the film unique visually. The usage of 24 mm lenses predominantly, or 35 mm for close-ups pull in the background, providing a wide look, but compressed to the actors. Moreover, the film has no music but the dialogue, jump cut and shots prove to create tension and beat.

The four leads are excellent in their roles. Andrew S. Gilbert won the deserved AFI best supporting actor ward for his portrayal of Detective Crean. One memorable scene is when he played a trick at Detective Hummer while having breakfast by lying to him. The question of "how well can you really know anyone?" again evolves. Frances O'Connor has also proven to be competent as she has immersed herself in to her role - naked, edgy, raw, insecure, which could be shown when she sleepwalks.

The film is paced and incidents after incidents happened quickly without allowing audiences to realise something amiss in the plot. However, after watching several times, one starts to ponder why Nikki throws the credit cards, wallets out the window while driving across Nullarbor at top speed. Would it not be silly as they are leaving trail marks for the cops to pursue them? Perhaps, it is truly Bennett's style - witty but eccentric.

The theme "how well can you really know anyone?" in Kiss or Kill has indeed described itself truly - Nikki and Al's distrust of each other, Detective Hummer's intrigue questioning of Detective Crean when he played a trick on him (like when Bennett was tricked in the barn with his crew friend), and even when everyone thinks they know the famous Zipper Doyle but he is into child sex. These elements are represented in O'Regan's description of an Australian cinema. It is a "social bond uniting (and excluding) diverse people" and that it serves as a vehicle of popular socialization and as a forum for telling uncomfortable truths about its society" (O'Regan, 1996:10).

Kiss or Kill also negotiates "cleavages of ethnicity, gender, race, class and nation". Indeed, Kiss or Kill is a "hybrid form made of objects, people, stories", also it has "inserted on the horizon of film institutions, audiences, publishers, investors, politicians, marketers, educators, business-persons and public servants nationally and internationally" (O'Regan, 1996:13). For instance, Australian Film Commission, Australian Film Finance Corporation, Australian director and cast, and even some characters (Zipper Dolye). Another instance is the appearance of an aboriginal tracker who mocks at the city cops and enlightens the forensic officials of the murders. It is no doubt that Kiss or Kill is an Australian cinema as it connotes the elements of the Australian cinema.

In other words, Kiss or Kill could be referred to as a national cinema., for it is "mixed-commercial and public enterprises". The Australian government provides higher degree of assistance in its commercial spectrum. As a national cinema, Kiss or Kill is also "structurally marginal, fragile and dependent on outside help" and in its "own domestic market and internationally, it is often structurally dispensable in that exhibitors, distributors and audiences can make do without" it (O'Regan, 1996:47).

In general, Kiss or Kill is operating in a medium-sized cinema as Australian market is also a "medium-sized market" (O'Regan, 1996:90). Australia does not have a huge market, it services about 18 million people and thus it is "not large enough to support extensive film production industry". Moreover, Kiss or Kill indicates that it does not have as extensive or valuable export markets as do larger cinemas such as the Hollywood films. However, it does have a market place for publishing, video, television.


Kiss or Kill, Beyond Films On Line,

Kiss or Kill, Features in Urban Cinefile,

Kiss or Kill, Reviews in Urban Cinefile,

O'Regan, Tom (1996), Australian National Cinema, London: Routledge.

Urban, Andrew L. (1997) "A Heart Still Beating", Cinema Papers, May 1997, No. 116.