Movie Review: Bra Boys
ROUNDUP REVIEW: BRA BOYS
"Bra Boys" is an odd, one-sided documentary that nevertheless opens a window onto Australian class struggles and a world weirdly familiar and exotic simultaneously.
This story of gang warfare involves an oppressed, impoverished community and events that could easily have happened in Los Angeles, Chicago or innumerable U.S. cities. But unlike the images we're used to here, in Sydney and, in particular, in the down-and-out Maroubra beach area, the gang members are surfers, not cyclists or drug kingpins. The ocean is their turf, and surfing is their source of communal bonding and salvation. Bloody fistfights erupt regularly, as does the occasional riot, and the film focuses on one killing and its effect on a family of four brothers.
But the juxtaposition of violence and seaside makes "Bra Boys" a movie, at least for the American viewer, of disquieting disconnect - "The Endless Summer" meets "Boyz 'N the Hood."
The film tells of the Abberton brothers. Contorting both viewpoint and credibility, however, is the fact that one brother, Sunny, is writer, director and producer of the documentary. "Bra Boys" is thus a subjective exercise in self-propaganda. But its personal details are affecting, and whenever the movie visually serenades the surfers riding the gargantuan waves that roll in Down Under, it's hypnotically beautiful.
One of Sunny's brothers, Jai, is charged with the murder of a "stand over man," Australian patois for an extortionist, while another, Koby, is charged as an accessory. Both are eventually freed, and part of the movie covers the suspense of the trial from the viewpoint of Sunny and the brothers' many supporters. The proceedings of the trial itself, however, remain off camera.
Abberton's film, narrated by Russell Crowe, also explores the history of the housing projects and working-class citizenry who live near this beach. The paradise setting only seems a cruel scenic background to familiar sagas of poverty and class oppression - a culture of protest, resentment, frustration and close-knit loyalty. The so-called Bra Boys often come from disturbed or broken homes, many falling under the felicity of "Ma," a kindly older woman who hosted hordes of the youngsters at her home for years to keep them out of trouble. Through much of the film, she's still alive, weakened by a stroke, but still a rallying point and anchor that gives the surfers a sense of family.
Otherwise, a testosterone miasma wends throughout the movie, which includes no interviews or depictions of the women currently in these men's lives. Without some outside research, it's not possible to draw any objective conclusions about the trial events, either. That said, "Bra Boys" nevertheless adds up to a messy, cheeky, inelegant but unusual and interesting memoir.
- Sid Smith
Running time: 1:30. Opens Friday at the Loews Pipers Alley theater. MPAA rating: R (for language, some violent content and reckless behavior).