Hugh Jackman was auditioning for the role of a character named Wolverine during the shooting of this film, Erskineville Kings. Perhaps an agent, a talent scout or an American producer saw his performance here as he plays stacked and angry brother Wace to Marty Dennissí Barky. Perhaps they noted his fine use of complex lines and well delivered aggressiveness seething just beyond reach but ready to be unleashed in a heartbeat. Or perhaps he just looks a little bit like Logan does in the comicbooks.
Whatever happened, Hugh Jackman holds this film together with an increasingly volatile strength that overshadows any other performer in the piece. While the supporting cast are able, there is a presence about our Hugh that sets him slightly above the rest. Marty Denniss starts the film out as a relatively nervous actor tripping over his lines before finally coming up with the goods in the last half. Once we get to the end though, itís easier to understand that perhaps that was entirely deliberate. He wrote the film after all, and who would better know a film than the writer who saw the whole thing play out in their head long before another living soul even read it?
Iíll come back to Marty Denniss soon, but first you should know a little something about the plot so you can get a handle on what Iím talking about (should you not have seen this alreadyÖ )
Barky is a thin guy; wiry, and nervously re-entering the decaying suburb of Erskineville, Sydney. He seems used to the amiable ways of the country and finds cityfolk a little different. This is understandable, for soon after he gets in we meet his old friend Wayne, and in conversation it turns out Barky has been away up north for close to two years. Why is still the mystery thoughÖ but not for long.
|"Donít automatically assume people wanna listen to youÖ "|
Barkyís father was an abusive tyrant who raised two boys after his wife had left him. Barky ran away, while Wace stayed behind. When the two finally meet up again, it is to an angry continuation of the disagreements they had before Barky left. Now Barky is back for the funeral of their father and is trying to rekindle his old friendships, his brother seems more and more like their father than ever. As the day progresses, new information comes to light about their father, their mother and what remains of their family.
While on the whole this story is fairly simple, there is a deep underlying essence to it that raises more issues upon reflection. Reminiscent of the brilliant The Boys for its observations on Australian working class families, the story doesnít quite pack the punch it leads up to. Itís still an interesting story that's well told, but it falls a little flat and even peters out a little in the end.
In playing Barky, writer and actor Marty Denniss begins the film quite stilted, even awkward. What could be misinterpreted as stage fright could also be construed as a well-captured hesitation as Barky enters a world familiar, yet somehow changed. Here are people who know him, but will they be the same? Will the places in his memory resemble the reality? I guess Iíd be hesitant and awkward too.
Itís a pretty good film that's well acted, but one I think will improve upon watching a second or third time. The ending that slows and doesnít quite reveal enough to warrant the build up is a minor disappointment, but one that still delivers a harsh edge to this crumbling world of bitter realities. And the story is about realities. The characters are real, the places are most definitely real and the story is certainly (and horribly) familiar. So we shouldnít get twist upon twist because life isnít like that.
Shot in Princeís year of 1999, the film has been treated fairly well in the transfer. The only film artefacts come in the form of black and white specks throughout which are annoying, of course, but generally non-disruptive. There are some moments of shimmering brickwork and tiled roofs, but this really canít be helped I suppose. Everything in this suburb seems to be made of either.
Granted us in the cinema aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with anamorphic 16:9 enhancement, colours are even and well saturated, flesh tones are fine and blacks are realistic. There are problems with shadows being very deep and inky, but I believe this to be deliberate, rather than a fault in the transfer. Those deep shadows that cut across so many scenes work as a reminder of both the gulf between the brothers and the difference between them. Most of this film has been exquisitely shot and there are some simply stunning renderings of domestic Sydney that are almost worth watching the film for alone. If you like crumbling inner industrial suburbs.
Dialogue is delivered cleanly, haltingly, nervously, edgily and even humourously here, but all clearly and fairly easily understood. Jackman delivers some lines that run on and on into each other without stumble at a frenetic pace and each one is crystal clear. We get the whole booty here in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround this works well, bringing a slow brewing thunderstorm into the surrounds throughout the film, steadily growing louder and more dangerous. This really amplifies the growing disparity between the brothers, with the subwoofer getting in on the action as well.
Music has been created for the film by Don Miller-Robinson and he has poured good humour and friendliness into the score, whilst not forgetting to add pensiveness and melody as well. Overall itís a cheerful soundtrack that is nicely done, but does tend to lean a little too often on one particular riff that might begin to grate. However, together with the fine sound effects and the more intense dialogue, we have a nice sound package all round.
Erskineville Kings is an interesting movie that carries us along with a minor mystery before giving way to having not a lot beneath it. Once some simple clues are given, we figure the story out long before the character and this gives us that phutting to a standstill I spoke of earlier. Itís still an impressive film that looks sensational with some great performances coming in from a relatively unknown (at the time) cast. Jackman does shine brightest, however, and he tends to easily dominate every scene heís in (whether he means to or not. Thankfully his character is a big, aggressive, angry man anyway). Worth looking for to check out some fine performances, but donít expect too much from the storyline as it is simplistic without a lot else to support it.
It is worth the look though.