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Australia 1999
Directed by
Alan White
80 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Erskinville Kings

Alan White’s directorial debut deals with a couple of brothers, Wace and Barky (Hugh Jackman and Marty Denniss) reuniting over the death and burial of their father. It depicts a day in their lives when, after a two year absence,  Barky returns to his old stomping  ground in the once working-class inner Sydney suburb of Erskinville where he also reconnects with an old friend (Joel Edgerton) and his former girlfriend (Leah Vandenberg). As the day wends on the brothers confront unresolved issues concerning their alcoholic, physically abusive father and their mother who left him while they were still young. Wace is bitter about what he sees as his mother’s abandonment of her duty, Barky however more justly blames his father.

It is little surprise to find out that the script by Denniss, who wrote this under the pseudonym Anik Chooney, was originally a stage play, as the narrative which for much of the time involves a group of slackers drifting around while consuming copious amounts of alcohol and dope, builds to its climax in a torrid verbal (and physical) truth-will-out confrontation between the brothers. Although this is too over-wrought to gel with the laconicism that characterizes what has gone before, the overall subject of suppressed resentment bursting out of the emotional depths as family secrets come to the surface recalls films like East of Eden,1955 and Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982) and is quite impressively realized both by Denniss’s script and White’s directing. This is doubly impressive given that the self-funded film was a debut effort for both director and writer (both of whom as well as many of the cast were former alumni of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and White had directed music videos and TV commercials, so it wasn’t an entirely cold start).

Particularly impressive is John Swaffield’s photography of Sydney's inner city dilapidation  (I’m not sure when the film is supposed to be set but I assume the 1990s although it could be earlier). Don Miller-Robinson also contributes an effective score.

The performances are all strong although the character of Trunny, played by Aaron Blabey who came late to the production, switches too easily between the crass and the caring and I had trouble with Denniss as the younger brother as despite being weedy of build he actually looks to be the older.

FYI:  The film was Hugh Jackman’s much-praised screen debut preceding the terminally twee Paperback Hero, released later that year. The film also provides an early role for Joel Edgerton whilst Leah Vandenberg,despite having a captivating screen presence, has largely worked in television since.




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