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Down Under

Year: 2016
Production Co: Wild Eddie
Director: Abe Forsythe
Writer: Abe Forsythe
Cast: Damon Herriman, Alexander England, Lincoln Younes, Rahel Romahn, Chris Bunton, Fayssal Bazzi, Michael Denkha, Justin Rosniak, David Field

Recently I've been thinking about movies that try to blend tones the way this 2016 black comedy does. As I wrote my review for recent Clooney effort The Midnight Sky I referred to the way his film The Monuments Men so badly bungled a freewheeling heist comedy and a serious war movie, like trying to jam Ocean's Eleven and Saving Private Ryan together.

Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman was another one where the scales trying to balance a serious diatribe on entrenched racism and a fun poke at rednecks tipped over catastrophically.

Some of the criticism I read of this Abe Forsythe flick said the same thing, but it's far more cohesive than that. There are plenty of moments that make you gasp in horror and just as many that elicit bursts of laughter, and they fit together perfectly.

The film's opening credits appear over the shocking pictures of racist yobbos descending on Cronulla in 2005 looking for anyone vaguely Middle Eastern to take their frustrations about immigration and globalisation out on.

The following night tensions are still high, and two gangs are spoiling for a fight after word on the street is that mobs will descend on Cronulla again to seek retribution for the violence the day before.

There's soft spoken student Hassim (Lincoln Younes), who wants nothing to do with the tinderbox waiting to happen, only concerned because his brother is out of contact and he worries he might have been hurt in the riot. Somehow, his abrasive friend Nick (Rahel Romahn) convinces him to come along with the posse he wants to pile in their car and take back to Cronulla, devout Ibrahim (Michael Denkha) and wannabe rapper D-Mac (Fayssal Bazzi).

On the other side of town, hothead bogan Jason (Damon Herriman) recruits his friend Shit-stick (Alexander England), who only wants to host his Downs Syndrome cousin Evan (Chris Bunton) while he's in town, maybe teaching him to drive, and their ardent pro-white friend Ditch, his head wrapped in bandages after getting his latest tattoo. Jason knows the Lebs are coming back for vengeance and he'll be damned if he's giving up his beach suburbs to a bunch of wogs.

Over the course of the movie the two gangs – both led by the kind of angry, inarticulate and stupid young men who started all the problems, crisscross Sydney getting weapons ready and looking for trouble. There are hilarious asides like the one at drug dealer Vic's (Dave Field) house for guns, he and his cadre of gay Filipino lovers taunting Nick and the boys mercilessly.

When the two finally meet head on – literally, in another side splitting set piece – all hell does break loose and writer/director Forsythe turns the crank handle to full dark despite all the laughs that have preceded it.

There are a lot of details to appreciate by a filmmaker who knows the cultural zeitgiest around the issues depicted. A classic example is Jason's shrewish girlfriend, already with a gaggle of kids to him and another one on the way, all with jewel-encrusted bogan names ('Destiny', in one case) but constantly screamed at with profane abuse.

The themes, if Forsythe is interested, are pretty plain and digestible, little more than the claim that violence is often perpetrated by people who are just too stupid to express themselves any other way. If you want to, you can look no further than the tagline; 'Australia vs Australia; Nobody Wins', or you can not even concern yourself that far and just enjoy the laughter, because there's plenty.

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