We’re forever being told by art doyens that Australians (like any other people) love seeing their own stories on the screen. So how come when a cracking good local movie like this comes along, one that uniquely belongs to ‘us’, it sinks without trace? Compare its dismal box-office fate with the runaway success of the dreadfully unfunny A Few Best Men, which was no more than a crass copycat rom-com cast from an imported template, with an overseas star thrown in to give it legs. Weep for the Oz film industry.
This opens in Sydney, 1960, as Kat Kelly (Robyn Malcolm) flees her abusive husband. Taking her two sons, she heads west to settle in a coastal town in the Margaret River region. The action then jumps to 1972, by which time the boys, Andy (Myles Pollard) and Jimmy (Xavier Samuel), have grown up to be surf-rats. The shot in which the kid Jimmy is engulfed by a wave only to re-emerge, still on his board, as the flamboyant teenager takes us from the past to the present, from B&W into colour – and it’s spine-tingling.
The siblings’ relationship is at the film’s core, with Andy ambitious and responsible, and the younger, headstrong Jimmy always likely to run off the rails. When the hippy JB (Sam Worthington) turns up in his merry prangster bus, with the Hawaiian beauty Lani (Lesley-Ann Brandt) under his wing, stuff starts to happen. Directors Ben Nott and Morgan O’Neill sensibly don’t shy away from the drug culture that so permeated their subjects’ lifestyle, as prejudice and crime force idealism to come to terms with pragmatism.
There is a tendency – it’s rampant these days – to over-use pop songs to create mood, and sometimes the words get in the way as dialogue gets clunky and needlessly declamatory, but the performances are ingrained with a true understanding of the characters, the period is recreated with affection rather than condescension and Geoffrey Hall’s camera is always exhilarating in a surf movie that rises above its genre.