**** (out of five)
On the eleventh of December, 2005, a hot sunny Sunday, a series of racially-motivated attacks at Cronulla Beach in Sydney lead to some pretty serious national shame and soul-searching. Now, finally, a filmmaker has examined the incident – as a comedy. It’s a brave, brazen and bold move, and it pays off mightily.
Writer / director Abe Forsythe’s last feature was the deliriously funny Ned Kelly spoof Ned way back in 2003. That film was a gag-fest in the vein of Airplane! or The Man With Two Brains, but Down Under has much more serious concerns. It’s an extremely angry film, spewing vitriolic rage at the kind of people who spew vitriolic rage. Basically, it’s a war on idiots, of every ethnic stripe.
Set the day after the riots, the film follows two carfuls of bigoted idiots on a collision course. One is stuffed full of “Aussies”, young men who live in The Shire (the geographic area that includes Cronulla Beach) who are determined to guard their beloved neighbourhood – “God’s Country” – against inevitable “Leb” (for Lebanese) retaliation. The other is a carful of hot-headed out-of-area Lebanese young men intent on delivering that retaliation. Over the course of the day, the two groups arm up, discuss plans, assemble allies and generally psyche up for a fight that nobody really wants yet everyone feels compelled to pursue.
Forsythe deals unashamedly in stereotypes and extremely broad humour, almost daring us to accuse him of extreme political incorrectness. He is remorseless in mocking those he obviously holds in contempt by pure virtue of their ignorance: a pregnant mother not only is shown smoking, we see her toddler plonked in front of a loud television at close range, and then see that she is watching a horrific scene from Wolf Creek, her tiny baby eyes wide with soul-scarring terror.
But Forsythe has got an extremely strict and disciplined schematic in mind, and sticks to his guns. The final act has great power and is full of inventive sequences and cunning reversals. His script has integrity and his direction is sure-footed and consistent. He may hold his characters in contempt, but never his audience.