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Lock away the kids somewhere for an evening, because films like this are never intended for their young eyes. Racism might be an important topic to cover with youngsters from an early age, yet when the issue is portrayed as violently and confrontingly as this you’ll be sure to put things off for a year or two. But does it make for a disturbing film? Far from it, as the events of the film are equally as poignant as they are graphic.

Romper Stomper
Movie
Nowadays when you see a bloke with a number one, skinhead haircut you’d be forgiven for thinking he was just a little fashion-challenged. Back when racism was a little less subtle, when the film was produced, having a largely bald head pronounced the fact that you weren’t a fan of foreigners, in particular those from the Asian region. And imagine the fear of onlookers as a whole gang of them stormed the streets, eager to cause no end of trouble.

Hando (played by Russell Crowe before he stormed Hollywood) is the leader of a pack of skinhead racists who tussle with a group of Vietnamese men early on in the film, which sets the tone for the whole production. One wouldn’t normally expect a love interest storyline to weave it’s way through such a confronting film as this one, yet soon after the gang’s early fight they head to the local pub, where Hando meets the vulnerable Gabe (Jacqueline McKenzie). Having split up from her previous relationship, Gabe takes to Hando despite his violent and aggressive demeanor. But things obviously get much worse.

More violence, more hatred and more foul language ensues, but it’s all in the context of the compelling story. Director Geoffrey Wright has pieced together a detailed look at the despicable acts of a group of neo-Nazi racists in a way that still manages to portray them as humans rather than animals. Extreme they may be, but they were all innocent little children once, now tarnished by an obviously wrong set of ideals. While the violence and general graphic nature of the film may have turned off many, it’s the kind of story you can’t help but get involved with. The film sparked intense debate as to its merits when it was released back in 1992, and those who watch it still can’t resist having strong opinions on the content within.

Kudos must go to Crowe, who pulls off the character of leader exceptionally well. It might be easy playing a bad guy in Hollywood but this is truly tough work. Some think Crowe is now overrated in Hollywood circles, while his supporters draw a distinct line between his accomplished work in this film and his subsequent efforts in Gladiator and Master & Commander. The support cast also turns in a commendable effort, lead by Jacqueline McKenzie in the days before she hit US screens with Deep Blue Sea. The other roles are spread quite evenly, the standout being Daniel Pollock as another gang front man who develops feelings for Hando’s girl. In all the cast cannot be faulted.

Romper Stomper
While it’s definitely an adult film by all accounts, Romper Stomper is an incredibly interesting tale of suburban racism and violence and what it can do to people who can’t turn their mindset around. Wright has injected the film with incredible detail, from the costumes worn by the gang members to the way they speak, look and act throughout. Some say it’s the most important Australian movie to date, which admittedly isn’t hard considering some of the dreck to come out of Down Under in recent times, yet the praise is well and truly deserved. In the current climate Romper Stomper becomes extremely relevant once again, so the recommendation is to grab this one as soon as you can, as long as the violence and adult themes don’t turn you away.

Video
For a movie shot on 16mm film in 1992 the transfer comes up quite well, though obviously not to the standard of most of the recent releases. Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, the film has a distinct blue wash over the visuals throughout. This is intended and probably serves to hide a few of the imprefections in the print and the transfer over the course of the film. That said, the majority of the transfer’s aspects are up to scratch, particularly the way the muted colours are handled. Despite the blue wash, everything looks completely natural, from the surrounds of suburban Footscray to the skin tones (and skin heads) of the characters.

Sharpness lacks a little but is never really a problem, while aliasing never really creeps in to become noticeable. Shadow detail is quite good, though strangely a few of the daytime scenes look almost like they’ve been shot at dusk on an overcast day. This may be intentional and also probably adds to the doom and gloom of the intense story.

Audio
Included on this release is a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack which does quite well in directing the sound around the stage. Each punch and kick can be felt from all angles, which is probably the best chance for the soundtrack to really get creative with the effects. Other than that there’s not too much surround action to speak of, save for a few other sound effects and ambient sounds here and there.

Romper Stomper
With such a passionate bunch of characters it comes as no surprise that the music plays a fairly big part in the film. John White is responsible for the award-winning score, which makes best use of the underlying tension in the film by exploiting the impact string instruments can have in the most heavy of sequences. The songs used in the film also help to set the tone, from your traditional punk rock racist anthems to the more subtle tracks dotted throughout the film. In all there’s a lot to like about this soundtrack without it really pushing things far.

Extras
A decent little extras package has been put together that doesn’t exactly keep you entertained for hours but are well worth a look nonetheless. The first is an audio commentary with director Geoffrey Wright who is joined along the way by producer Daniel Scharf and composer John Clifford White, among others. It’s an interesting track which places the film into the context of its time and discusses how the production was received upon its release. One interesting thing to note is the comments on actor Daniel Pollock, who is said to have been fatally “struck by a train” before the film was released, following a drug problem. Some reviewers have mentioned he took his own life before he could see the film, but one has to have their doubts considering the comments made in the audio track. Bottom line is don’t believe everything you read on IMDB.com’s trivia section, guys. That’s why it’s called trivia.

The only other meaningful extra is a line-up of interviews from 1992, with Russell Crowe, Geoffrey Wright, Jacqueline McKenzie and Tony Lee having their say in these decade old interviews. Good to see Rusty as he was way back then, and the interviews run long enough for there to be some interesting insights to each of the interviewees.

Rounding out the small collection is a photo gallery, biographies of all the key players and the theatrical trailer. Not the best extras package going around, but at least the commentary track adds some real value.

Romper Stomper
Overall
Not the kind of film for a quiet Friday night in, but definitely a film that is as important as any. Russell Crowe and Jacqueline McKenzie shine in their early-career roles as the story shoots forward, taking all the violence, hatred and anger in the world along with it. The video and audio serve the film well while the commentary is a pleasing look at the effect of the film as a whole. Grab the disc when you get the chance because the film is well worth a look.


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