EmptySYDNEY -- To call the production values of the Australian surfer documentary "Bra Boys" amateurish would be too kind. But there's something strangely compelling about the undiluted machismo of the culture it celebrates. It's a piece of unabashed myth-making from first-time writer-director Sunny Abberton, himself a member of the infamous surf tribe from the working-class beachside suburb of Maroubra, in Sydney.
Footage of world-class surfing and a hard-charging rock soundtrack should attract the niche wave-rider market overseas. The addition of Russell Crowe as narrator of some largely superfluous commentary gives it an imprimatur of professional cool. (Crowe will make his directorial debut with a film based on the docu later this year.) The film became Australia's highest-grossing non-IMAX documentary when it was released locally last year, making mainstream celebrities of its subjects. So far the film has done well at international fringe festivals.
One-eyed and technically inexperienced he may be, Abberton (co-directing with fellow Bra Boy Macario De Souza) is able to provide a raw insider's look into the way an aggressive, dysfunctional environment spawned this territorial clan of blood-brothers. With their penchant for bare-knuckled brawling and run-ins with the police, the Bra Boys have been making headlines in Australia since the mid-1990s. Abberton doesn't shy away from including amateur video of all-in street fights, yet the Bra Boys are generally portrayed as misunderstood outlaws rather than the thuggish gangsters of the authorities' vision.
The self-serving narrative soon zeros in on the Abberton brothers -- Sunny, Jai, pro surfer Koby and Dakota, the youngest. The boys, who have a heroin-addicted mother and three different fathers, find solace in the surf and in the company of other troubled kids from broken homes. We're taken inside a tight-knit community where stabbings, turf wars and police scrapes are as commonplace as the surfing and beach parties that show off the Bra Boys' playful side.
The well-publicized controversies include a 2003 murder trial, in which Jai was charged with, and later acquitted of, killing a fellow Bra Boy and standover man, while Koby was charged with being an accessory.
The narrative is ramshackle, a seemingly ad hoc collection of badly edited talking-head interviews and wobbly, unfocused footage, punctuated by Gothic intertitles mirroring the style of gang members' tattoos. The objectivity of an autobiographical documentary has to be questioned, but it's unlikely a stranger could get the subjects to speak with such candor.
Bradahood Prods./Garage Industries
Sales: Hopscotch Prods.
Directors: Sunny Abberton, Macario De Souza
Writer: Sunny Abberton
Producers: Sunny Abberton, Michael Lawrence
Executive producers: Jason Bergh, Sal Masakela, Michael Lythcott, Nicholas Cook, Michael Lawrence, John Mossop
Directors of photography: Macario De Souza, Brook Silvester
Music: Jamie Holt
Narrator: Russell Crowe
Editor: Macario De Souza
Running time -- 85 minutes
MPAA rating: R