Monday, March 16, 2009

The Combination: Testosterone Rules

After all the conflict at the opening sessions in Sydney, only one other person was in the St Kilda cinema at lunchtime on Saturday to see The Combination. A pity, because this is an Aussie film with attitude. It’s a good story, competently told. Actor and now director, David Field’s first effort is tight and straightforward.

George Basha wrote and stars in this Lebanese/Australian tale of star-crossed lovers. It’s more like West Side Story than Romeo and Juliet, a clash of cultures in the modern city. George, as the street toughened John Morkos, does tough guy very well but his delivery of love scene dialogue is a bit flat. Firass Dirani as brother Charlie is a rising star. He handles a difficult part without slipping into melodrama. Doris Younane’s performance as their widowed mother Mary is a very professional one.

Testosterone rules: school “gangs”; youth, drugs and crime; the boxing gym; knives and even guns. The background noise includes the 2005 riots in the Sydney beach suburb of Cronulla between Lebanese and so-called “old” Australian youths.

Don’t expect a clash of religions as well. Ironically the only openly Christian group are the Lebanese. The stereotypes just won’t fit. The messages of this film are not subtle. John’s girlfriend Sydney (Clare Bowen) gets the standard assimilation lecture from her father.

We don’t learn much about the inner lives of the characters. We are left to wonder why school student Zeus (Ali Haidar) has the heart of a murderer. Their seemingly irrational behaviour is easy to understand using the usual social stereotypes. Until John confronts his mother when she blames him for Charlie’s criminality. John asserts personal responsibility, his own and Charlie’s. He challenges the web of multi-cultural and economic determinism that has been set up so far in the film. We all live with choices we make.

Tony Ryan plays Wesley, the owner of the gym where John works and trains. His aboriginality gives an added racial dimension. There is further irony when he offers John a way up through boxing.

First-timer Clare Bowen, fresh from the south coast of New South Wales, gets the rookie award. She has that relaxing Toni Collette quality that makes you think you know her from somewhere. You can’t help feeling at home with her character. However, apart from her family, we are left without any history for Sydney or real explanation for why she can withstand all the pressure to walk away. Perhaps this is essentially just a love story after all. And a story about families.

This is another Australian film that deserves a bigger audience. Catch it while you can.

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