Australian Rules


Directed by: Paul Goldman
Written by:Paul Goldman, Phillip Gwynne
Starring: Nathan Phillips, Luke Carroll, Lisa Flanagan, Tom Budge, Simon Westaway
Released: August 29, 2002
Grade: B-

There’s a small town on the South Australian coast known as Prospect Bay.  As our leading character tells us, it’s biggest claim to fame was being runner-up in the 1995 Tidy Town contest.  In contrast to its name, there are few “prospects” in this boring community.  Everyone who has any brains leaves for the bigger city where there are better opportunities.

The white men live in the town’s centre with the Aboriginals living in an outpost not far outside it.  Neither group has respect for the other and there’s much animosity between the senior folk.  Blacky (Phillips) is a white teenager who is best friends with an Aborigine, Dumby (Carroll).  They play together on the local aussie rules football team and show none of the racism that their childish parents do.

A series of events will soon split the already divided town.  Following the AFL grand final, the presentations are held to reward the best players on the team.  When the top award is announced, everyone expects Dumby to be a shoe-in - he kicked heaps of goals in the finals and is being targeted by leading AFL clubs.  However, the man-of-the-match prize goes to the son of the coach, who just so happens to be white and in a fit of fury he will do something that will stupid.  To add fuel to the fire, Blacky is seen being intimate with an Aboriginal girl named Clarence (Flanagan) and his racist father is furious.  There’s a lot of rage in the air and few people will be spared the effects of the tumultuous happenings that follow.

The film’s opening is dull and needs more substance and humour.  The is no fault amongst the performances but first time writer-director, Paul Goldman shows his inexperience.  The signs are there though that he will develop into a solid director and in fact both Dennis Hopper and Melanie Griffith have signed on to feature in his second film, The Night We Called It A Day.  The aussie rules scenes could have been more exciting.  If they hope to screen the film overseas, I would have preferred to see the sport feature more prominently.

Racism has been explored in many recent Australian films and the question needs to be asked whether this offers a fresh perspective.  The answer is a clear no.  I am surprised though to see some people within Aboriginal circles criticise the film for portraying them badly.  It is only a story and I don’t think it shows either party in a positive light.

Void of much emotion, supporting character Pickles (played by Tom Budge) steals the show with his psychotic sense of humour.  That scene at the AFL game where he makes sheep noises to his opponent is a classic and probably the only part of the film I’ll remember in a months time.  To put it bluntly, the film follows too many cinematic “rules” and needed more originality and flair.