Film-Forward Review: BRA BOYS

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Koby Abberton surfing in Tahiti
Photo: Berkela Films

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Written & Directed by Sunny Abberton
Produced by Sunny Abberton & Michael Lawrence
Director of Photography & Edited by Marcario De Souza
Music by Jamie Holt
Released by Berkela Films
Australia. 84 Minutes. Rated R
Narrated by Russell Crowe

Just 20 minutes from Sydney Airport is the hardscrabble community of Maroubra Beach, which has grabbed international headlines for its brawls and brawny championship surfers. Bra Boys explores this masculine stronghold through the autobiographical prism of the four Abberton brothers – writer/director/producer Sunny, Koby, Jai, Dakota, and their surf tribe.

Russell Crowe’s narration provides historical background on the development of the low-income housing developments boxed in between a sewage treatment plant, rifle range, and prison – a reminder of the neighborhood’s rising crime and drug use, which ensnared the brothers’ parents. Fiercely protective of each other, they and many other local boys were left to reconstitute themselves as a family on the rocky shore with surf so strong that the aboriginal-derived name means “Beach of Thunder.”

Placing his Bra Boys as part of the history of efforts by authorities to restrict surfing, from the aborigines vs. the colonists on, Sunny makes the case of how they are peacefully multicultural when left on their own, compared to how the media portray the various surf tribes as violent and racist gangs. He showcases the aggressively raw male rites of passage in home movie-like familiarity, from the elaborate tattoos, to bloody bare-knuckled fights, high diving from cliffs while set on fire, and generally very hard partying.

His brother Koby insists that it is the nature of this tough environment that has produced spectacular professional surfers. This context enriches Bra Boys compared to other surfing documentaries, which usually show the ooh and ah-worthy feats without much of the motivation behind barely distinguishable, tanned daredevil braggarts. The second half of this film soars as the entwined forces in the brothers’ lives come into dynamic focus. First one, then another brother is dragged into a legal nightmare surrounding the shooting death of a volatile drug dealer. The film then ricochets between Koby’s tense court appearances and the exhilaration of his go-for-broke pursuit of the biggest waves from Hawaii to Fiji and then back home, where he fights off his fears that he might be facing his last opportunity to experience the freedom of the open waves.

Even with English subtitles for the interviews with brother Jai, there are still plenty of other thick Aussie accents for an American ear to acclimatize, let alone local slang, geographical distinctions, and surfing terms to assimilate. Not the least is a segment placing the Bra Boys within totemic Australian larrikin culture as rebels with or without a cause. Crowe has often been labeled an exemplar of that tradition (and is planning to direct a fiction feature film based around the Abberton brothers).

While Jim Holt’s loud frenetic score is unrelenting, it effectively captures the Boys’ intense testosterone-fueled camaraderie. (Other than their drug-addicted mother, saintly grandmother, and the supportive mothers of the brothers’ young teen surfing protégés, women are barely mentioned or glimpsed.) While it shares some of the same feel as Stacy Peralta’s surf-and-skateboard documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, Bra Boys has more contemporary immediacy and in-depth intimacy. Nora Lee Mandel
April 11, 2008



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