Erskineville Kings - rated - SIMMERING

Backstreet Boys with grace and style

Here's something unusual: a film about the relationships and emotions of the Australian male!

The setup is all too familiar from other recent Australian films like Hotel Sorrento (Richard Franklin, 1995), Radiance (Rachel Perkins, 1998) and Soft Fruit (Christina Andreef,1999). A man returns from out-of-town to attend his father's funeral. His relationship with his father was fraught, and it seems his relationship with his elder brother is too. The elder brother (Hugh Jackman) has issues, but won't discuss them. He simply reverts to the "older brother" routine and begins pushing his younger brother around (Marty Denniss palys the younger brother and, as "Anik Chooney," wrote the screenplay).

However, the film looks stylish (almost too stylish - the director, Alan White, comes from the world of advertising and every scene is as lovingly polished as a jeans commercial). And the style is not empty style: it really establishes the characters' world. The crumbling buildings in the crowded backstreets and the rusting metal of the corrugated iron roofs hint at the rugged beauty of the decaying relationships (if that's not too arty for you!). All these locations are quite familiar to me, so that aspect of the film was enjoyable too. But it did annoy me that they parked right on the corner outside the pub - which, by the way, must have been called "The Erskineville Kings."

The film plays out over one hot summer day, and when the characters (including the excellent Aaron Blabey) begin to drink, the truth will out. But not before an awful lot of talking and some quite realistic fighting. There's almost too much talk in this film, but what saves the film from pitching over into the implausible is that although the (male) characters all talk too much, they don't seem to say anything. It's all hot air, until the very end, which is moving in its silence.

In order to balance the film with its male-dominant plot we also have a romantic sub-plot with Leah Vandenberg. She's a talented actor, who does pretty well with a sketchy role. Then there's the inexplicable appearance of a pushy female in a scene in a garage. I couldn't follow that at all, and it seemed to interrupt the flow of the film. However, the one female presence that does dominate the film is the unseen one - the boys' mother, who left them with an abusive father when they were young. It is her influence which is the main female presence here, and her effect is palpable. Perhaps the filmmaker could have left it at that.

One minor thing that grates about this film is the try-too-hard names of the characters: Barky, Wace, Lanny (a girl)...who are these people? Then again, the writer is named Anik Chooney, so who am I to criticise?

Nevertheless, this is a serious Australian film about blokes and family. A terrific feature film debut from Alan White, which is every bit an interesting a film as the much-praised Two Hands (Gregor Jordan, 1999 - see my review).