Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Rob Sitch
Stars: Michael Caton, Anne Tenney, Stephen Curry, Tiriel Mora, Charles Tingwell, Anthony Simcoe, Sophie Lee, Eric Bana, Wayne Hope, Bryan Dawe, Costas Kilias, Robyn Nevin, Lynda Gibson, John Flaus

The Castle is not another quirky, amusing local comedy. Rather it is a genuinely funny and touchingly honest tale that is firmly rooted in the typical Australian spirit of mate ship and barracking for the underdog, themes that it shares with the criminally ignored Mr Reliable. The first big screen outing for the creators of tv’s Frontline, the popular current affairs satire that has successfully blended razor sharp humour and biting satire with a format that is close to straight drama, The Castle is a real winner. While not quite as sharply written as Frontline, this simple yet affecting and amusing comedy taps into readily recognisable and endearing characters, who are brilliantly created and richly detailed.

The Kerrigans are a typical working class family who enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Their modest little home in the northern suburbs of Melbourne is filled with warmth, humour and love, even if it does back up to the adjoining runway on the nearby airport. They also enjoy the serenity of their small lake side holiday home in Bonnie Doon, even though it is located beneath high voltage power cables. Tow truck driver Darryl Kerrigan (Michael Caton) is the head of this close knit family of honest battlers, a simple optimist and philosopher who is constantly full of praise and makes every one in the family feel important and worthwhile. Even their wayward jail bird son Wayne (Wayne Hope) is still considered an important part of this nuclear family.

When Darryl is served notice that his house is to be compulsorily acquired to allow for airport extensions he goes in to fight. Every man’s home is his castle, but for the Kerrigans their quarter acre block is much more, as their family home is full of memories and rich resonant echoes of their past, emotional ties that no amount of money or compensation can replace. Darryl is not too sure how to fight for his house, but he knows that it is not right that anyone can just legally take away a man’s home, and although he suffers some early setbacks in the courts, he is not about to give up. We see events unfold from the rather naive perspective of Dale Kerrigan (tv veteran Stephen Curry), the youngest son who idolises his father and who doesn’t always comprehend the intricate machinations of the complex legal struggle.

In the wrong hands this material could have gone terribly wrong, and it would have been so easy to laugh at the Kerrigans and their naive optimism and simple view of life. But such is the strength, intelligence and compassion in the marvellous script from writers and co-creators Jane Kennedy, Tom Gleisner, Santo Cilauro and Rob Sitch (who also directs) that the Kerrigans become an endearing lot, and audiences laugh with them and share in their struggle. We empathise with the family and their plight and we thrill as they somewhat foolishly take on greedy developers over a principle.

Much of the film’s charm comes from the casting, which is well nigh perfect, and the natural performances from veteran actors who were enthusiastically encouraged to improvise and explore their characters more fully. Caton (best known for his role as Uncle Harry in tv’s long running soap The Sullivans) is perfectly cast as Darryl, and he gives a generous and warm performance, maintaining a subtle balance of understated humour and quiet strength. Tiriel Mora is marvellous as Dennis Denuto, the small time lawyer and family friend who finds himself out of his depth when dealing with the complexities of constitutional law and high powered corporate lawyers in silk suits, and he brings dishevelled charm and earthy humour to the film in a scene stealing performance. Veteran Charles (Bud) Tingwell, an old favourite who found a whole new audience through his collaborations with the film’s writers on The Late Show, brings dignity and intelligence to his role as Lawrence Hamilton, the retired QC who takes the Kerrigan’s fight all the way to the High Court.

While the emotionally draining Shine is taking Australian films to the world and reaping richly deserved accolades, this more modest local production is easily one of the best films produced by the local industry in quite some time. The Castle is a simple yet honest and topical story that audiences can relate easily to, and it succeeds beautifully through an assured mix of sheer charm, humour and enthusiasm.




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