Australian Rules

Australian Rules

***1/2

Reviewed by: Trinity

In the small Australian fishing town of Prospect Bay, Gary "Blackie" Black (Nathan Phillips) and Dumby Red (Luke Carroll) are players and friends in the same Aussie Rules football team. The atmosphere is tense, as winning their next match will take them into the Premiership for the first time in 38 years and give them something to be more proud of than being runners up in the 1993 Tidy Town competition.

Blackie is white and Dumby is Aborigine. Racial tension lies barely buried beneath the surface of the town.

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When a series of robberies are committed, suspicion falls upon one of the other players and Blackie has to take his place in the team, as rucker. More accustomed to talking than tackling, he seeks advice from the many tacticians in the town - the old bait seller Darcy, the local butcher and team coach Arks and even his Mum who runs through plays on the kitchen table. Come the time of the big match, he has to make a brave decision to win the game - but what will be the consequences of the innate bigotry and hatred that runs through both sides?

At first, Australian Rules seems a fairly run-of-the-mill racial drama, which we have seen many times in American settings. Indeed, the plot closely resembles Romeo And Juliet, which has, itself, been transposed to the ganglands and ghettos of the US of A.

What makes the film work is the incredibly earnest acting of the main players, Phillips as Blackie and Carroll as Dumbie. Some of the supporting cast are also outstanding, in particular Tom Budge as Pickles, the seemingly harmless geeky friend of Blackie who turns into a snarling BMX bike fiend. Also, the unusually isolated, claustrophobic setting of the town gives the atmosphere a real edge.

One of the film's failings is that the adults appear to be there simply to represent different points of view, lending reasons to the youngsters' actions. An exception is Bob Black (Simon Westaway) who, though essentially a good man, becomes a twisted and pathetic individual by the end.

A climactic incident, in the aftermath of the important match, represents an abrupt change of mood. Suddenly, Blackie is plunged into an emotional struggle between his friendship with Clarence, another Aborigine, and his relationship with his father.

The script is based on Phillip Gwynne's novel Deadly, Unna. With director Paul Goldman, he has created a film as gritty as the stud marks left on the field of a dirty town.

Reviewed on: 10 Aug 2002
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Australian Rules packshot
Racial tension hides beneath the surface of a tidy Australian fishing town.

Director: Paul Goldman

Writer: Phillip Gwynne, based on his novel, Deadly Unna

Starring: Nathan Phillips, Simon Westaway, Lisa Flanagan, Luke Carroll, Kevin Harrington, Tom Budge

Year: 2002

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: Australia

Festivals:

EIFF 2002

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