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March 2011

Aggravated Assault

cast: George Basha, Doris Younane, Firass Dirani, Clare Bowen, and Rashad Dehan

director: David Field

96 minutes (18) 2008
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2

RATING: 7/10
review by James A. Stewart

Aggravated Assault

In this gritty Australian drama - which is almost an antipodean American History X - director David Field attempts to bring to life some of the quite real racial tensions that exist in Australia's larger cities, so much so he uses real images from 2005's riots in Sydney. Being by its very nature a nation of immigrants (aborigines aside), Australia has, much like America, struggled to create and foster a national identity. Aggravated Assault, or The Combination, as it is known in Australia, is a reminder that the human preponderance to segment people based on a series of tenuous social conditions is one our species' greatest weaknesses.

Set in the suburbs of Sydney the film opens with Lebanese-Australian John (George Basha) returning from prison, having been incarcerated for reasons never revealed. His family home lacks a father now and John takes on the oldest-male-in-the-household position but has landed in a place where his family is shunned and his little brother (Charlie) is in cahoots with the local gang of non-Aussies. Of course, a la West Side Story, the gang made up of Australian boys is the Sharks to the Jets of the multinational crew.

These tensions are brewing while John tries to rebuild his life. He is revealed as an ex-boxer after taking a cleaning job at the local gym and finds love in the shape of the blonde hair, blue-eyed Syd (Clare Bowen). But he faces a battle to save his brother from ending up in jail just as he did. This is a respectable film, very watchable and with some excellent acting. Perhaps the most accomplished is Ali Haider as the maniacal Zeus who stokes the racial tensions with fatal consequences. Bowen gives a reasonable turn as the love interest to John, a character whom George Basha gives a first-rate performance as.

On the downside, the soundtrack had me reaching for the remote as the music and the dialogue flitted between too loud and exceptionally quiet. In addition, there were a fair few holes in the plot, such as; why was John in jail? Just what happened to the father? And - most perplexing - after an arcade stabbing, how was the antagonist free to walk the streets the day after being arrested? As well as these faults, it is a film that could generally have done with a shade more backstory weaved into the characters.

These flaws aside, Aggravated Assault is an honest low-budget movie that has a fair few points of interest. There is nothing remarkably original about it but the acting, direction and script are all of a reasonable level and at just over 90 minutes it is worth looking out as we wait for summer to come.

Lastly, and I suspect this is probably a phrase regularly used in Australia, but I did enjoy the retort from Chris (Lebanese background) when he had been cornered by a local gang who were proclaiming their rights as 'true Australians' - the Lebanese laughed and said, "We came in planes, you came in chains." The result was a pretty rough beating all the same.



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