Somehow a dark comedy about the Cronulla Riots, despite one’s knee jerk rejection to that premise, is precisely what the Australian cinematic landscape needs.
Abe Forsythe is standing in the wake of an encroaching storm. The writer/director behind the inflammatory Cronulla Riots comedy Down Under has tackled the shameful elephant in the room in Australia’s recent history where he and his players ridicule and empathises with each side equally. Opening the film with the best of the worst footage from the riots, this time underscored with Christmas carols, Forsythe lays the gambit, this satire is going to begin with laughs and end with bruises.
The night after the Cronulla riots two car loads of misfits are cruising the Shire. One, a group of Anglo-Aussies (Shit-Stick [Alexander England], Jason [Damon Herriman], Ditch [Justin Rosniak], Evan [Chris Bunton]) intent on protecting their town from those invading “Wogs” and “Lebs” as heroically as soldiers in Gallipoli or “those Hobbits from The Shire.” The second, a group of Lebanese guys (Hassim [Lincoln Younes], Nick [Rahel Romahn], Ibrahim [Michael Denkha], D-Mac [Fayssal Bazzi]) are searching for one of their brothers who has gone off the grid since the morning of the riots.
In the Q and A that followed the world premiere, audience members at the Sydney Film Festival asked Forsythe a crop of questions about his specific views about the role of the media, and his particular views on the subject. His answer was to look to his film and characters to form an impression. And his characters save for possibly one, form all the colours of the stupidity spectrum. Forsyth crafts two crews of dullards as tour guides to this cringe worthy, overtly racist action guised as nationalism. The crews on either side of this collision are crafted to find levity in the darkness.
In the Anglo-Aussies, stoner Shit-Stick [Alexander England] is the passive crew member who brings along his downs syndrome cousin Evan [Chris Bunton] with the intent that it will make a man out of him. Jason [Damon Herriman] is the defacto leader of the group alongside the walking Ned Kelly tattoo mural Ditch [Justin Rosniak]. Jason is the fiercest member of the crew and Forsythe (seemingly) takes great pleasure in giving him a beautiful and tyrannical ‘baby mama’ in Harriet Dyer’s Stacey. In the middle of the riots, Stacey barks orders and gives a kebab ultimatum that will result in her divorcing him if it goes unfulfilled. Bunton’s Chris becomes the voice of reason in the group. As the members of the crew who supposedly have more mental faculties than Chris begin to try and explain their prejudice, Bunton’s innocent stare is echoed by the audience. You may fall out of your chair as Chris explains to Ditch that Ned Kelly is in fact Irish and a migrant.
Hassim’s [Lincoln Younes] brother Amir has gone missing; and Nick [Rahel Romahn] demands that they head into the furnace to retrieve him. And when visiting relative Ibrahim [Michael Denkha] hears about what’s happening he’s compelled to action; and D-Mac [Fayssal Bazzi] provides their beat box soundtrack. Nick (an occasional drug dealer) leads the boys into Maroubra (a suburb near Cronulla) into drug Queen-pin Vic’s (David Field) den. Surrounded by hairless Thai servant boys bagging up drugs Hassim is required to shed his pants and dignity, to be armed.
Despite the inherently bad taste you have laughing at characters around this event; Forsythe and his team have done a respectful job honouring the cultures of those cultures portrayed in the film. Forsythe’s opening footage plucks the heinous vernacular directly from the rioters screeching at their victims and contrasts that with moments or ineptitude and care in any moments they’re not caught in the throes of this situation.
Forsythe and cinematographer (Lachlan Milne) style has a fluorescent crispness and a penchant for slow motion car screeching punctuated by clumsiness. When violence inevitably finds these characters; it’s heinous and brutal. The soft edges created by the humour are quickly maimed as you realise that their stupidity is the very thing that dulls their ability to understand the consequence of their actions. The musical selection is critical in this time B.S. or Before Spotify; and you cannot help but chuckle watching the Anglo-crew join in a Never-ending Story theme song sing-a-long; or D-Mac’s attempt to free-style rhymes based on the characters’ actions.
In 1942 Ernest Lubich and Jack Benny made a comedy called To Be Or Not to Be set in Poland about an egomaniacal performer more worried about his stage presence than the encroaching Nazis. It was goofy, it was hilarious but most importantly it was incredibly brave. Abe Forsythe’s Down Under has that same fighting spirit; tackling the mud streaks in Australia’s present reflection by kicking it swiftly in the crotch.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Directed by: Abe Forsythe
Written by: Abe Forsythe
Lincoln Younes … Hassim
Rahel Romahn … Nick
Michael Denkha … Ibrahim
Fayssal Bazzi … D-Mac
Alexander England … Shit-Stick
Damon Herriman … Jason
Justin Rosniak … Ditch
Chris Bunton … Evan
Harriet Dyer … Stacey
David Field … Vic
Marshall Napier … Graham
Josh McConville … Gav
Dylan Young … Az
Christiaan Van Vuuren … Doof
Anthony Taufa … Taufa
Robert Rabiah … Amir