Surfer Jesse (Lachlan Buchanan) lives in the shadow of his half brother Victor (Reshad Strik) an ex-surf champion and the local bad boy. With the local surf pro fast approaching, Jesse and his mates plan a trip away with some local girls for a weekend of surfing and partying in the dunes. When Victor and his gang arrive at the isolated beach and decide to claim the surf break, an unofficial surf contest ensues - and ends in tragedy.
American writer-director Dan Castle reckons there hasn’t been a really good, dramatic surfing movie since John Milius’ Big Wednesday in 1978, and he classifies John Stockwell’s 2002 effort Blue Crush as a Cinderella story.
By that yardstick we’re still waiting, because Castle’s debut feature Newcastle is a very minor contribution to this neglected genre. Castle got the idea for the movie when he made a short film, The Visitor, at Sydney’s Tamarama beach in 2001/2002 and a friend took him to Newcastle: hardly the surfing capital of Australia, but scenic enough.
At the centre of the story is 17-year-old Jesse (Lachlan Buchanan) and his rivalry with other surfers, including his belligerent older half-brother Victor (Reshad Strik) and best mate Andy (Kirk Jenkins). Jesse is embarrassed by his other brother, the androgynous-looking Fergus (Xavier Samuel) who, true to the stereotype, is a sensitive gay.
Jesse’s dream of becoming a champion surfer suffers a setback when he flubs the heats, and he, Fergus, his mates and a couple of nondescript girls head off to Stockton for a weekend of surfing, sex and partying. Then Victor and his crew turn up in what looms as an ugly confrontation.
Most of these scenes could have been lifted straight from Home and Away, although here the characters are much crasser and less articulate. The deepest line is trotted out by one youth who gazes skywards and says, 'We’re just like all them stars – little specks of nothing." Too true in this context.
As one who prefers a sun lounge to a surfboard, the surfing sequences look unremarkable and chiefly serve to pad out the thin plot. More than an hour into the movie, a dramatic incident finally occurs but by then I was beyond caring, and, oddly, Castle skims over the repercussions.
Among the youthful cast, Buchanan, Samuel and Jenkins are earnest but their characters are superficial. I won’t mention the girls because their roles weren’t burdened with brains or personalities. The experienced Strik is effective as the bullying Victor who’s jealous and resentful of his younger sibling for seeking the fame which eluded him. Shane Jacobson as the boys’ well-meaning father and Barry Otto as their kindly grandpa bring a touch of class to proceedings. Generous extras include a 'Making of" featurette with interviews with cast and crew.