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Australia 2008
Directed by
Dan Castle
106 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Synopsis: For a group of Newcastle’s working class teens, the Junior Surf Pro final is a ticket out of steel-town monotony. In the case of Jesse (Lachlan Buchanan) it means a life beyond the dockyards where his father, Reggie (Shane Jacobson), and older half-brother, Victor (Reshad Strik), work. When Jesse’s and his mates go on weekend of waves and parties with some local girls and Jesse’s gay brother, Fergus (Xavier Samuels) tragedy strikes, putting everybody’s life in perspective

Surfing apparently isn’t what it was back in the glory days of the 1960s when Nat Young and Midge Farrelly were households names in zinc-creamed, white bread, life’s-a-beach suburban Australia . As per the excellent 2007 documentary, The Bra Boys, surfing seems to have morphed into a testosterone-driven battle-field for young males cut off from the yuppified, IT-laden world of mainstream social development. Newcastle is rather like a toned-down, fictionalized version of that film. As such it very effectively captures the foolhardiness, confusion and awkwardness of youth as well as its golden beauty which is so at home in the equally golden beaches around Newcastle.

Newcastle in many ways depicts an Australia that we so rarely see on screen in these globalised days that it appears almost retrograde, reminiscent of ' 80s teen dramas like Running On Empty (1982). Despite an unpromising opening which is largely limited to typically abusive blokey banter as our main cast of boys and girls is introduced, it develops into a surprisingly well-made film with strong direction from debut director, Dan Castle, who also wrote the script, first class photography by Richard Michalak, with the surfing sequences particularly well-handled, and a winning cast of young actors who not only give engagingly natural performances but look damn fine in board short, bikinis or their birthday suits.

It is with the lives of these young people that the film is mainly concerned and Newcastle is in familiar genre territory here. In this respect it resembles Monkey Puzzle (2008) another Aussie post-adolescents-in-crisis drama doing the rounds at the moment. Indeed once the film passes its climactic moment it struggles to keep our attention as it tends to fall back on the convention of the sports movie to bring narrative closure (which, in any case, it sort of cheats on). Much as there is of merit here I suspect however that the film will struggle to find an audience. Not, of course, that that is unusual for an Australian film but Newcastle is perhaps a little too much of everything and not enough of one thing to travel well beyond its home ground.




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