Dir: David Field. Aust. 2008. 96 mins.
A high-energy, low-budget, independently-financed tale of gangs, guns and racial hatred in the hot, flat western suburbs of Sydney, The Combination has hit the headlines at home after violent outbursts at some of its screenings. But the film, which went out on February 26 on a small 33-screen release through Australian Film Syndicate, has also attracted some very good notices and word of mouth. As yet, it does not have an international sales agent.
The Combination was unable to attract any funding during its long development process from Australia's State or Federal funds: actor-turned-director David Field told one interviewer that he blamed 'middle class snobbery'. Producer John Pirrie won't name his one 'silent investor', nor reveal the actual production budget, though a Sydney newspaper recently quoted a feasible figure of $1.1m (A$1.7 million). Whatever the case, the movie will need captions to make its money back, both at home and overseas.
The Combination explores the fraught relationship between Sydney's Lebanese-Australian community and local Anglo-Aussies. Working from a screenplay by George Basha, with wide-screen digital lensing by Toby Oliver, Field has turned in a good-looking, action-packed urban thriller. However, its wider home release and prospects abroad will be dented by the authenticity of the dialogue and the muffled street diction of a mostly inexperienced cast. The Lebanese/Arabic dialogue comes with captions - but a large percentage of the English/Australian dialogue needs captions, too.
Basha also plays the lead character, John, returning to his community after a prison stretch and determined to put his life in order. He takes a job as a cleaner at the local boxing gym run by Aboriginal Wes (Ryan, excellent), rescues a blonde Aussie girl in distress named Sydney (Bowen), and tries to stop his school-aged brother Charlie (Dirani) from falling into the same traps as he did - drugs, guns and underworld promises of easy money.
Charlie is in a Lebanese gang led by reckless Zeus (Haidar). They are regularly called wogs, towelheads and camel drivers by an Australian gang lead by Scott (White). 'We can't let these Aussies disrespect us, bro,' says Zeus, and big trouble brews.
John's well-intended meddling is not welcomed by his brother, who follows Zeus into a doomed deal with dangerous local drug lord Ibo (Denkha). Knives and guns are pulled, hot tempers flare, death and destruction are inevitable. Meanwhile John introduces the wide-eyed Sydney to his mother (Younane) and grandmother, and to the rich Lebanese culture of food, clubs, song and dance. She is hooked, much to the intense displeasure of her racist parents. The movie carries TV reportage of the 2005 Cronulla Riots - nasty beachside clashes between visiting Lebanese groups and flag-waving Aussies.
Basha has a stolid integrity, though he lacks the heroic appeal that followers of the action/revenge genre expect. The Combination races to a bloodthirsty climax, well choreographed by Field and editor Ken Swallow.
See Thru Films
Australian Film Syndicate (Aus)