Prospect Bay is a poor fishing village in South Australia, where Gary ‘Blacky’ Black (Nathan Phillips) is an unremarkable 16 year old in a battling family of four siblings. He is also part of the local Australian Rules football team – albeit not its star player. His best friends are the edgy and very white Pickles (Tom Budge) and Dumby Red (Luke Carroll), a charismatic Aboriginal kid with a lovely sister, Clarence (Lisa Flanagan), whose affections Blacky slowly earns. The racially divided town comes together on the football field, since the Aboriginal players make up half the team. Blacky’s mum (Celia Ireland) offers some winning tips, but success at footy, however hard won, does not equate to success at home, as Blacky’s racist, abusive father, Bob (Simon Westaway), demonstrates in a moment of drunken violence that impacts on the whole community.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Comedy and tragedy, sweet and sour, Australian Rules is impressive for its economy and power in handling a complex handful of issues and themes. Paul Goldman’s debut feature is based on a novel (which is partially based on real events). Primarily a rites of passage story about Blacky, superbly played by a young and vulnerable Nathan Phillips, Australian Rules is also a hard hitting social document about Australia today. The setting is strictly provincial, but the subject is painfully universal. And while the film’s sensibility is clearly anti-racist, the subtleties in scripting and editing lift it above posturing, laboured if enlightened politics. Faultless performances from all and unsentimental direction give the film a raw edge that makes this a Bloody Mary cocktail of sweet comedy and fiery drama, with Mick Harvey’s music playing a critical role in fusing our feelings with our intellectual response to the film. Audiences (at Sundance and the Adelaide Festival) have responded emotionally and volubly to the film. It will no doubt find an enthusiastic audience around the world.
Review by Louise Keller:
Moody and thought provoking, Australian Rules is a moving story about small town life, a football final and racial prejudice. Based on his best-selling novel Deadly, Unna?, screenwriter Phillip Gwynne (in collaboration with director Paul Goldman) has crafted a potent script that deals with controversial and hard-hitting themes of discrimination and violence both in and out of the home. These are issues that do not offer easy answers, yet are made accessible through the characters of this engaging story. The sleepy fishing town has a sign on the side of the dusty road that says ‘Tidy Town – runner up 1993’. Tidy it might be – on the outside – but underneath the surface, rages pent up anger, hatred and ugly prejudice. This is the story about two best friends whose different skin colour has no impact on their relationship – until their families get involved. They are the same age, the same height and laugh at the same things. They even fantasise about the same movie stars – Kylie, Madonna – and enjoy dreaming about a better life. The Football field is the one place where they can both escape from the daily problems they face at home. Blacky lives in fear of his father – a brute of a man, who uses violence both physical and verbal to appease his inadequacies. It’s a tragic home life, and there are many scenes that will haunt you. One is the scene when Blacky and his siblings hear their father abusing their mother in the room next door. Not a word is spoken as the children sneak to safety through the window to spend the rest of the night in the peace of the hen house. Performances are all strong – from Simon Westaway’s abusive father, Celia Ireland’s tragic mother and Kevin Harrington’s well-meaning footie coach Arks. Newcomers Nathan Phillips and Luke Carroll are outstanding as Blacky and Dumby, and Lisa Flanagan is just right as Clarence, the tomboy with a crush. You won’t forget Martin Vaughan’s Darcy, the maggot breeder, nor will you forget the unique Squirrel football tackle he teaches Blacky. It’s hard to imagine how much impact a block of fruit and nut chocolate can have, but I guarantee that after this film, you will look at such a treat very differently. Through Mandy Walker’s beautiful cinematography and Mick Harvey’s edgy score, Paul Goldman’s film concentrates on the characters, the setting and the mood. Australian Rules is a powerful film that leaves you thinking.
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INTERVIEW with Paul Goldman and Mark Lazarus by Andrew L. Urban
AUSTRALIAN RULES (M15+)
CAST: Nathan Phillips, Luke Carroll, Lisa Flanagan, Tom Budge, Simon Westaway, Celia Ireland, Kevin Harrington, Tony Briggs, Martin Vaughan, Kelton Pell, James Alberts
PRODUCER: Mark Lazarus
DIRECTOR: Paul Goldman
SCRIPT: Phillip Gwynne with Paul Goldman (based on novel Deadly, Unna? by Phillip Gwynne)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mandy Walker
EDITOR: Stephen Evans
MUSIC: Mick Harvey
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stephen Jones-Evans
RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 29, 2002 (advance screenings 23, 24, 25 August)