Peter Weir's The Last Wave is an ambitiously conceived and dramatically executed film that combines a variety of genres—the psychological thriller, the courtroom drama, the disaster film, and the supernatural mystery—into a unique cinematic achievement. Its profound social and political implications are as unsettling as its buildup of suspense is subtle. With its linear narrative and direct, matter-of-fact tone, The Last Wave is a striking portrayal of the inner hysteria of a man and his world-order gone awry….
[The] thunderstorm shatters the ordered complacency enjoyed by lawyer David Burton … and by the white society to which he belongs. In its apocalyptic culmination, the last wave of the storm is destined to destroy the civilization that all but annihilated the continent's aborigines….
Burton loses his foothold on "reality" only to discover that it has a different level, looser in definition and related closely to the world of dreams. After losing the case, Burton's dreams materialize. Dream and reality become one.
The visual leitmotiv in the film is water—the mysterious overflowing of a bathtub, a drizzling faucet amidst the storm, a leaking car radio, and a lawn sprinkler that reminds even on a sunny day that the storm is never far away. But it is really the clash between dichotomous worlds that dominates the film: that of "civilized" society where the coziness and warmth of the home are often a smokescreen for a suffocating insularity, and the sacred aboriginal sites, which offer vast, open spaces suggesting a freer spirituality.
Weir's style is economical: the recurring shot of the dark Sydney skyline dominated by an omnipresent rainbow, and that of the calm ocean with a sickly halo of light curbing its horizon, are as chilling as they are lyrical.
Dan Yakir, "Apocalypse, Now" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © The Village Voice, Inc., 1978), in The Village Voice, Vol. XXIII, No. 52, December 25, 1978, p. 48.