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OZ CINEMA
Your guide to Australian film.
By Joshua Smith

Film Review: Romper Stomper (1992)

Author: Joshua Smith
Published on: December 23, 1997

Leading Players: Russell Crowe (Hando), Daniel Pollock (Davey), Jacqueline McKenzie (Gabe), Alex Scott (Martin), Leigh Russell (Sonny Jim), Danial Wylie (Cockles), James McKenna (Bubs), Samantha Bladon (Tracy), Josephine Keen (Megan), John Brumpton (Magoo).

Main Crew: prod, Daniel Scharf, Ian Pringle; dir, Geoffrey Wright; writ, Geoffrey Wright; dop, Ron Hagen; ed, Bill Murphy; mus, John Clifford White; prod d, Steven Jones-Evans; cos, Anna Borghesi.

The release of Geoffrey Wright's violent, social realist work, Romper Stomper, instantly raised questions regarding violence both within our society and on the screen. The violence that permeates Romper Stomper, however, carries with it strong moral reasoning. In many ways, Wright has portrayed the urban wars in a narrative style reminiscent of a number of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies. As such, themes revolving around loyalty and the family resonate powerfully throughout the film, intertwined as poetically and seamlessly as those present in Macbeth.

Wright's debut directorial effort, also penned by Wright, presents a remarkably poignant character study of a group of Neo-Nazi social outcasts. Their situation, as a struggling minority group fighting for freedom from racial impurity, is indicative of the struggle that Australian aborigines face every day.

Interestingly, Wright's portrayal of this group appears, in many ways, to be a study of the obstacles facing the Aborigines in the 1990s. If so, his focus on a group that most audiences would see as inherently bad, could be a clever fašade that shrouds the essential subject matter in order to protect him from critical backlash from indigenous groups. In any case, Hando and his accomplices could be seen as representatives of any minority grouping — perceived by others as misguided, attention-seeking outcasts.

Hando (Russell Crowe, in a spectacularly powerful performance) led his group of nationalists in the war to reclaim land that they believe they are entitled to. This is symbolic of the Aborigines' battle to reclaim Australian soil. Just as the indigenous people of Australia are grossly outnumbered, and their numbers diminishing, Hando's Nazi group was similarly so, and both groups, as portrayed by the mass media, can be linked to alcoholism and social isolation as side effects of their fighting a losing battle. In fact, the riveting conclusion to the film, strengthened by the ironic appearance of a number of Asian tourists at Hando's death scene, is indicative of the fact that while the jingoistic battle has been lost, the survivors came to the realisation that harmony could only be achieved through dissemination with other cultures.

Within the broad racial struggle that forms the film's main plot, the Neo-Nazi group strive equally as adamantly to identify their roles within the exiled family cluster. Hando, as the leader, has established the role of father figure and mentor within the group, while Davey (Daniel Pollock) can be seen as the son, and elder brother to the rest of the motley crew. Gabe's (Jacqueline McKenzie) arrival upsets the existing balance by creating a mother figure for the group.

This development is indicated both in her attempts to stop Hando from attacking a Vietnamese child, and her attempts to "clean up" the group by cooking and cleaning for them. Her acceptance by all, except for Hando whose power base is shifted, broadens the minds of the group and accelerates their willingness to integrate more comfortably into society.

Understandably, such a dramatic power shift calls themes of loyalty (both to each other and to "the cause") into question. Since the group's main strength springs from unity and collectivism (symbolised by their tenacious belief in Hitler's philosophy), any imbalance can upset the group's ability to function effectively. The intolerance that Hando felt towards Asians is, in many ways, mirrored in his relationship with Gabe as she, in this case, is the new import — exiled from society by an incestuous father and a violent boyfriend. As we expect, Gabe creates tension that forces Davey, an others, to question their blind loyalty to Hitler's cause and to Hando.

Stylistically, the film's turbulent themes are enhanced through the usage of equally unbalancing hand-held camera movements, jump cutting and unusual camera angles. This aspect of Wright's approach is largely naturalistic, seemingly allowing the audience to participate in the film's diegesis. The employment of point-of-view shots and expressionistic lighting not only frames the gritty, dark urban landscape, but also places an emphasis on the performances of the actors, which, by all accounts, are naturalistic and provoking.

Employing an incredible diversity of innovative stylistic elements, Wright has created a hyper-kinetic film that doesn't slow for a beat until the credits begin to roll. Drawing on genuine, social realist themes and supported by powerful performances, Romper Stomper blends potent drama seamlessly within the framework of an urban action film. In focusing upon a cross section of Australia's cultural spectrum that is rarely highlighted, Romper Stomper not only captivates its audience, drawing them into the realism that forms the film's mise-en-scene, but creates a striking, relentless cinematic experience that one will never forget.

 
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