This provocative comedy about the Cronulla riots couldn't feel more timely.
August 13, 2016
December, 2005. Two cars circle the beachside Sydney suburb of Cronulla, each filled with hotheaded locals looking for a fight. In one vehicle, the aggressive Jason (Damon Herriman) and his Ned Kelly-worshipping pal Ditch (Justin Rosniak) take the well-meaning but not-so-bright Shit Stick (Alexander England) and his kind-hearted Down Syndrome cousin Evan (Chris Bunton) in search of folks of Middle Eastern descent to bash. In the other, Hassim (Lincoln Younes) tears himself away from his studies to scour the streets for his missing brother – though his pals Nick (Rahel Romahn) and D-Mac (Fayssal Bazzi) and his devout uncle Ibrahim (Michael Denkha) are all keen to cause some physical damage to the area's ocker residents along the way.
It's a scenario inspired by reality, in a film filled with harsh truths. If you're feeling a little awkward or even confronted by a comic take on the Cronulla race riots, that's okay. You're supposed to be. Like British terrorism satire Four Lions before it, Down Under addresses a subject everyone is aware of but no one wants to talk about, in perhaps the only way that it can. Feeling like you shouldn't be laughing at what you're seeing is part of the point. Thinking about why you're laughing is as well.
Accordingly, the plot of Down Under offers a peek at the ugly side of Australian life. Conflict, discrimination and violence is inescapable in this film, as is the sense of discomfort by those watching. In his polished, purposefully provocative return to feature filmmaking after 2003's Ned, writer-director Abe Forsythe revels in the controversial nature of a situation that no one in the country can claim is unrealistic. After all, we all saw the scenes that made the news just over a decade ago; in fact, that's the footage Down Under begins with.
As the two groups spend a day and a night driving around searching for weapons and arguing amongst themselves, the film manages to find the delicate balance between making a statement and making you laugh. Gags that stress the similarities between both sides provide many of the film's funniest and most astute moments, while Forsythe's clearly committed cast ensures that the characters never feel like mere caricatures – even when they're spouting idiotic, bigoted crap.
Ultimately, Down Under isn't simply attempting to get viewers cackling about an uncomfortable topic. Forsythe is primarily trying to highlight the nation's deep-seeded intolerance, as well as the pointlessness of spewing hate based on cultural differences. It's little wonder that the film that results isn't just a comedy, but a tragedy as well. And given the current political and media landscape, this movie and its message really couldn't be more timely.
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