FINAL WINTER, THE
In the early 80s, as rugby league is changing, Newtown star player Grub Henderson (Matt Nable) is desperate to hang on to the game of old, without the corporate hangers on, immersed in the code of loyalty. His bruising style, however, is being challenged, and when a bitter, long fought feud with his brother Trent (Nathaniel Dean) erupts on the field, Grub's career is in jeopardy. Club CEO Murray Colgate (John Jarratt), represents the new business face of the game, for whom Grub has no respect, And vice versa. But Grub is also losing the support of his wife, Emma (Raelee Hill), who demands he make a choice.
Review by Louise Keller:
A story about passion, loyalty and mateship, The Final Winter takes a critical week in the life of a rugby league footballer when his professional and personal demons come to a head. The character of Grub (potently played by the film's writer Matthew Nable) is fictitious, but the era of 80s rugby league is not, when the game began its shift to commercialism and corporate sponsorships. It's an impressive writing and acting debut for Nable, whose vision is ably realised by first time directors Brian Andrews and Jane Forrest. Appealing primarily to those who love rugby league, the film tells of the pressures and conflicts on and off the field.
The opening sequence takes us into the locker room and onto the field where we get a sense of the camaraderie and the importance placed on winning ('Every game you play counts'). There's plenty of heat out there, and I am not referring to the weather. Personal vendettas and resentments become punches, and Grub's ugly, unsportsman-like behaviour towards his brother Trent (Nathaniel Dean) is at first incomprehensible.
Grub's emotional journey sits at the heart of the film, and Nable delivers. Dean is impressive as Grub's younger brother who 'likes life to be simple' and I especially liked Raelee Hill as Grub's long suffering wife Emma, who desperately wants him to revert to the man with whom she fell in love. Former Queensland captain Matthew Johns does a reasonable job as the coach intent to feather his own nest, but John Jarratt overplays his smarmy corporate chief.
The film captures an authentic, tangible mood of Aussie life, footy fever and the pressures of the game. The final resolution that neatly ties up all the loose ends feels a tad contrived, but does not detract.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Clearly driven by a passion for rugby league - at least as it was played up till the early 80s - writer & star Matt Nable puts his all into this film, which will be embraced by fellow fans. A wider audience will need to be convinced, though; the film's final third carries its punch, but the first two thirds are a hard slog for those who are not fired up about the sport. The thumping sound design during the opening game is designed to maximise the grunt factor and to display the kind of macho, bruising game that Grub Henderson (Nable) regards as the real thing. Anything less is touch football.
Many non believers will be off side through these scenes (all well staged, and adroitly shot by Ian Jones ACS), and Nable doesn't make things easier for the film by turning in a terrific performance - as a real selfish, arrogant and angry grub. He maintains this ugly façade right to the end, while we see the pain and suffering he causes to his family and his own brother, Trent (Nathaniel Dean).
Mostly fine performances help keep us engaged, but there are moments when we could be excused for wanting the film to end sooner - or that some aspects be clearer. But then sport films are not my favourite genre at the best of times, so calculating my bias into the equation, I'd have to say the film is what the filmmakers set out to make; in that sense, it's a success and should find its market audience. The end credits are illustrated by boxed footage of rugby greats of the 70s and 80s, to underline the fact that this film is an ode to that era, those players and their sentiments.
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FINAL WINTER, THE (M)
CAST: Matt Nable, Matthew Johns, John Jarratt, Nathaniel Dean, Raelee Hill, Kate Mulvaney
PRODUCER: Anthony Coffey, Michelle Russell
DIRECTOR: Jane Forrest, Brian Andrews
SCRIPT: Matt Nable
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ian Jones ACS
EDITOR: Matthew Villa
MUSIC: Adam Gock, Dinesh Wicks
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Murray Picknett
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount Pictures Australia
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 6, 2007