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Under the Radar

Year: 2004
Director: Evan Clarry
Cast: Nathan Phillips, Steady Eddy, Clayton Watson, Chloe Maxwell, Marg Downey
It's ironic that the term 'under the radar' could be used to describe the way most Australian films have been received in the last 2 years, because Under the Radar is the best offering from an Australian movie in a long time.

Whereas director Clarry's debut Blurred was a clumsy mess, in Under the Radar he brings a much more confident hand to the director's chair, with a sense of storytelling finesse missing from most movies in general, let alone Australian ones.

Because Under the Radar's singular triumph isn't in the characters, the premise or the technicalities of moviemaking, it's the method of fractured timelines it uses to tell the story, jumping between flashbacks and the present. It's not a new trick, but it keeps you wondering what's going on in a story that wouldn't be half as engaging in strictly linear fashion. For virtually the entire length of Under the Radar, it succeeds simply by playing on our curiosity.

Why, for example, does the film start with a distraught-looking youth running through farmland from two armed thugs, tearing pages out of a book and eating them as if to destroy critical evidence? As the story flicks back and forth between the past and present, characters and introduced with suddenness and impact simply because we don't know what they have to do with the predicament at hand.

As such, it's very hard to give away any details about Under the Radar without giving away critical parts of the story before you need to know about them. And to director Clarry, the situation surrounding the four young protagonists is divulged on a strictly need to know basis, so much so that we don't even meet several of them until well into the running time.

Suffice it to say it involves a classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time for deadbeat surf star on the rise Brandon (Phillips), beautiful drifter Jo (Maxwell), and Mental Health retreat residents Trevor (Eddy) and Adrian (Watson). Venturing off the beaten track, they find themselves up to their necks in a world of loot, thugs and gangsters.

And even though Brandon prides himself on being able to get out of any scrape, gangsters (as the movie's tagline says) don't surf.

Earnest rather than Shakespearian performances by all involved (particularly the exuberant Phillips, a world away from the quiet, sensitive role of Gary Black in Australian Rules), tightly scripted dialogue and an effective storytelling method make Under the Radar as enjoyable a night at the movies as any American blockbuster.

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