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Prospect Bay is a poor fishing village in South Australia, where Gary ‘Blacky’ Black (Nathan Phillips) is an unremarkable 16 year old in a battling family of four siblings. He is also part of the local Australian Rules football team – albeit not its star player. His best friends are the edgy and very white Pickles (Tom Budge) and Dumby Red (Luke Carroll), a charismatic Aboriginal kid with a lovely sister, Clarence (Lisa Flanagan), whose affections Blacky slowly earns. The racially divided town comes together on the football field, since the Aboriginal players make up half the team. Blacky’s mum (Celia Ireland) offers some winning tips, but success at footy, however hard won, does not equate to success at home, as Blacky’s racist, abusive father, Bob (Simon Westaway), demonstrates in a moment of drunken violence that impacts on the whole community.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Comedy and tragedy, sweet and sour, Australian Rules is impressive for its economy and power in handling a complex handful of issues and themes. Paul Goldman’s debut feature is based on a novel (which is partially based on real events). 

Primarily a rites of passage story about Blacky, superbly played by a young and vulnerable Nathan Phillips, Australian Rules is also a hard hitting social document about Australia today. The setting is strictly provincial, but the subject is painfully universal. And while the film’s sensibility is clearly anti-racist, the subtleties in scripting and editing lift it above posturing, laboured if enlightened politics. Faultless performances from all and unsentimental direction give the film a raw edge that makes this a Bloody Mary cocktail of sweet comedy and fiery drama, with Mick Harvey’s music playing a critical role in fusing our feelings with our intellectual response to the film. Audiences (at Sundance and the Adelaide Festival) have responded emotionally and volubly to the film. 

On the DVD (nicely transferred), the 14 minute behind the scenes featurette is unpretentious but contains more footage from the film than is really necessary. There’s nearly 7 minutes of outtakes, but the clips are raw and not especially riveting. Likewise the under-3 minute Mercado interview from Channel V. 

The best part of the DVD extras is the three-way commentary by co-writer and director Paul Goldman, co-writer Phillip Gwynne and producer Mark Lazarus. A trifle dry in parts, it’s nonetheless informative as a backdrop to the film’s final shape and form. It’s especially valuable as a study guide – both for formal students of film and social history, as well as anyone with a genuine curiosity about the film’s themes and settings.

Published September 11, 2003

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CAST: Nathan Phillips, Luke Carroll, Lisa Flanagan, Tom Budge, Simon Westaway, Celia Ireland, Kevin Harrington, Tony Briggs, Martin Vaughan, Kelton Pell, James Alberts

DIRECTOR: Paul Goldman

RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16: 9 enhanced; Dolby Stereo and Dolby 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: (retail version): audio commentaries by cowriter and director Paul Goldman, co-writer Phillip Gwynne and producer Mark Lazarus; outtakes; behind the scenes featurette; Andrew Mercado interviews with Luke Carroll & Nathan Phillips; trailers; photo gallery

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: (rental) January 8, 2003; (retail) September 10, 2003

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