Tribeca Review: Newcastle

A well meaning but ineffective coming-of-age story set on the surfing beaches of the industrial mining center of Newcastle, Australia.  Mediocre action footage and tedious angst make for a film that is an effort to watch

Jesse (Lachlan Buchanan) lives with his twin brother Fergus (Xavier Samuel) and older brother Victor (Reshad Strik).  They are all part of a community of teenage and 20-something surfers who use the beach as their alternate reality.  They need an alternate reality because their real lives revolve around the ultimate destiny of most of the young men of Newcastle which is to work in the burgeoning coal mines of the region.

In what is the only above-average photography in the film, the coal freighters  are shown off the coast, at anchor, while the young men perform their surfing moves in the foreground.  The result is a very nice combination of the pristine and the foul, of the graceful and the disgraceful.  The viewer can hardly believe that the beautiful, translucent emerald green water and the coarse, oily hulks of the freighter can exist in the same medium.

Beyond that visual effect, which is repeated too many times throughout the film, there is little else to look at.  The surfing is terrible.  The waves are small and the moves are amateurish and yet the surfing is held up as something that validates the characters in the film.  What these characters needed was skate boards so as not to compete with the spectacular surfing extravaganzas that viewers can see almost every week on TV.

Jesse’s older brother Victor is a failure in the world of competitive surfing, apparently having had a bad day and blown his chance to get out of Newcastle.  Unfortunately the audience is not given a clue as to why this happened or what could possibly have led the boy to think he would be a national champion to begin with.  As a result he comes off as a simple bully who has somehow failed to mature. 

In any event, the older brother is jealous, bitter and resentful of his younger sibling for attempting to do what he could not.  As a result we are forced to watch tedious and very poorly acted macho acting out that would seem more in place in a college fraternity than a family.

The scenario of the film is that two of the larger group of surfer friends have been chosen to compete in the stereotypical surfing competition of all time.  This is the stuff that makes dreams come true, but the audience will never buy it.  There is no action presented that any average viewer could use to justify who is best or why they are best.  It is all just mediocre.

Two girls are presented as part of the group but they have little to say, and even less to do.  The intent is to generate some love interest but their parts are almost completely non-existent.  Their passive natures fail to couple with the sibling rivalry and eventual closure that the brothers achieve.  There is no reason to have the girls’ parts in the film.  Was this the director’s intent?

On the other hand, Fergus’ awakening of his sexual attraction to other males is thrown in for good measure.  Although this echoes writer/director Dan Castles previous success with his award winning “The Visitor” (2002) it does nothing to make this film move forward.  To many good angles are left unexplored and the least interesting are spotlighted.

In the end, one of the group is forced to pay the ultimate price when some inexplicable and invisible surfing accident comes into play.  The result is the most maudlin and hackneyed surfer death ceremony ever seen on screen.  Nobody, surfer or otherwise will buy this cornball scene.  Of course, Jesse now comes to the fore, the understudy who gets the big break because he is, well, nice.

In the end, everybody learns lessons, but theory are lessons most of us have learned long before.  We don’t need to buy a ticket for this education.

Release: Tribeca Film Festival
MPAA: Not Rated
Runtime: 107 minutes
Country: Australia
Language: English
Color: Color

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