Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Abe Forstyhe
Stars: Lincoln Younes, Damon Herriman, Justin Rosniak, Chris Bunton, Alexander England, Rahel Romahn, Faysasl Bazzi, Michael Denkha, Harriet Dyer, Marshall Napier, David Field.
Bogan culture on our screens is nothing unusual, dating back to The Adventures Of Barry McKenzie right through to Fat Pizza, Housos, and their ilk. And now the ugly bogan stereotype raises its head again in Down Under, a politically incorrect black comedy set in the aftermath of the 2005 Cronulla Riots. This is very topical and timely, especially given the recent demonstrations and protests about Muslim immigration here in Australia. But often humour is the best way of tackling controversial and uncomfortable subject matter. One of the inspirations for the style of Down Under was Chris Morris’s 2010 film Four Lions, a superb black comedy about four would be suicide bombers in London.
Down Under is the first feature film from actor turned writer/director Abe Forsythe since 2003’s Ned, and it shares a few thematic connections as it looks at questions of Australian identity. Forsythe’s film takes place on the day after the riots that shocked a nation and the film actually opens with some graphic newsreel footage of the ugly riots. These scenes of escalating racial warfare on the once quite suburban streets of the Sydney beachfront are quite confronting and shocking.
Two diverse groups of hotheads, fired up by a desire to wreak some retribution for the riots, head out looking for trouble. One group is led by the racist and heavily tattooed bogan Jason (Damon Herriman) who is keen to protect his turf. He is accompanied by Ditch (Justin Rosniak), Ned Kelly’s biggest fan, whose head is wrapped in a towel following the latest tattoo, and dope head Shane, aka Shit-Stick (Alexander England), who works in the local DVD shop and would rather watch Lord Of The Rings with his cousin from Nimbi, Evan (Chris Bunton), who suffers from Down Syndrome. Despite his Down Syndrome though, Evan seems to be the smartest one in the bunch. Prowling the streets in their car and armed with baseball bats and a vintage WWI rifle and fuelled by a potent combination of testosterone and hatred, they are on the lookout for anyone looking vaguely Middle Eastern.
Their mirror opposites are a group of Lebanese, led by the hothead lout Nick (Rahel Romahn, from The Principal, etc). Accompanying him is the insufferable beat-boxer D-Mac (Fayssal Bazzi) and the deeply religious Ibrahim (Michael Denkha). Nick has also managed to rope in the quiet, studious Hassin (Lincoln Younes, from tv series Home And Away, etc), who is reluctant to participate. Hassin is keen to find his brother who went missing on the day of the riots.
Both groups are driven by a misguided rage, and they are unsure of whom they are even after. Comedy is an effective way of tackling controversial subject matter and so it is with Down Under. Forsythe shows a good eye for the humour of the situation and there some great moments of physical and visual humour here. Forsythe exposes the idiocy of mindless racism and violence here with a down beat ending. But unfortunately his pacing of the material is a little uneven, and many moments do fall flat. The dialogue is often very profane and littered with expletives and racial epithets that many will find uncomfortable.
Younes is the closest the ensemble film has to a central character, and he delivers a more sensitive performance that contrasts with the bombastic and over the top performances of the bulk of the cast. There is also a nice and subtle performance from Bunton, while Harriet Dyer is wonderfully over the top as Stacey, Jason’s domineering and potty mouthed and heavily pregnant missus. David Field is cast against type in a small but colourful role as a vicious homosexual methhead and drug dealer.
Down Under is likely to polarise audiences as it addresses issues such as race, Australian stereotypes and the problems of our multicultural country. It is an ambitious film from Forsythe as he tries to tackle a complex situation. Forsythe is careful not to take sides here, but he does highlight the folly and futility of it all. But ultimately Down Under is a flawed effort that falls short of his lofty ambitions.