Australian movies scare me. As much as I know I should support local movies by seeing more of them, I’ve been bitten in the ass too many times. The Aussie industry has a chip on its shoulder about making “movies” and is way too preoccupied with making “films”. Almost like a legit movie can’t be too entertaining, because that would be pandering. When I saw the trailer of Erskineville Kings, I was worried that’s what I was going to get. But there was also something about that trailer that made me think it was worth taking a chance on. Which turned out to be right.
Barky (Marty Denniss) has made a long journey home to Sydney for his father’s funeral. Catching up with his friend Wayne (Joel Edgerton), it’s immediately obvious that Barky has been gone for a reason. Every time Barky runs into another old acquaintance, including ex flame Lanny (Leah Vandenberg), the question of Barky’s older brother is always almost immediately brought up. For some ominous reason, everyone is nervously anticipating what will go down when these two siblings are reunited.
When it happens, Barky’s brother (Hugh Jackman as Wace) is revealed to be the bitter, older brother. Harbouring resentment from being left behind when their mother abandoned the family 15 odd years ago, left behind to look after their father when Barky decided to find work up north a couple of years ago. Obviously the result of an abusive home, Barky and Wace have different ways of dealing with the past, repressing the past, and trying to convince themselves of better versions of the past.
Erskineville Kings was released just one year before Jackman would become a Hollywood star with the first X-Men movie. But watching this, it seems pretty obvious that his ascension to the A-list was just a formality. As Wace, he gets by far the juiciest role in Erskineville Kings, and he grabs on with both hands. While Barky is all quiet angst, Wace gets to be angry, he gets to be aggressive, he gets to be remorseful, he gets to be damaged. And with that, Jackman steals the entire movie from the second he first appears on screen.
About halfway through, I realised something about Erskineville Kings. It’s one of those movies that’s all about the journey, not the destination. I kept assuming I was watching set up for what would happen once the brothers got to their father’s funeral and what would happen in the fallout from that event. But it’s all about the tension in the lead up. In the space of one long, hot afternoon in Sydney’s depressing outer suburbs, a lifetime of frustrations and resentment are brought out.
Erskineville Kings ticks all the clichéd Aussie movie drama boxes. Middle class NIDA graduates pretending to be working class, blue collar blokes. Everyone has to have a tragic past and their moments of happiness are few and far between. But in the end, Erskineville Kings delivers these clichés in way that it’s all OK. And at 80 minutes, it delivers them efficiently too.