A disgraced ex-Australian rules football player (Oliver Ackland) returns to home to redeem himself.

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Australian footy-themed melodrama fumbles, kicks few goals.

Thirty three years after he played the belligerent Aussie Rules football coach in The Club, Bruce Beresford’s film adapted from David Williamson’s play, Jack Thompson is back, bellowing and exhorting as the coach in Blinder.

an uninspiring, B-grade effort



Now, no disrespect is intended in stating that this film’s director, Richard Gray, is no Beresford. Before The Club, Beresford already had an impressive bank of credits including Breaker Morant, Don’s Party, The Getting of Wisdom and the Barry McKenzie capers. This melodrama is Gray’s third film following the box office dud Summer Coda and US supernatural thriller Mine Games, which is in post-production.

Nor could the screenplay originally written by businessman Scott Didier 14 years ago, then reworked by Didier, the director and Michele Gray, conceivably have ever come from the pen of Williamson.

But judged purely on its own merits, Blinder is an uninspiring, B-grade effort, a plodding tale of healing old wounds, unresolved guilt and lost innocence. It’s set largely in and around an Aussie Rules football team, the Tigers, in the Victorian coastal town of Torquay; extensive scenes of the Tigers’ matches may seem interminable for non-devotees of the sport. The effusive commentary by former AFL great Sam Kekovich (one of the film’s executive producers) sounds authentic.

The narrative jumps back and forth from 2002 to 2013 and unfolds mostly in flashbacks. The flash point is an after-match celebration in 2003 involving sex, drugs and a 15-year-old girl, a scandalous event that’s splashed on the front page of the local newspaper and scars the lives of some participants.

The chief protagonist is Tommy Dunn (Oliver Ackland), who is a line coach for a college football team in Boston when the film opens. He fled to the US after the scandal and has lost touch with his mates. He decides to go back after hearing grim news about his former coach Charlie 'Chang’ Hyde (Thompson).

Flashbacks recount the lead-up to the night of debauchery, revolving around Tommy’s relationships with his girlfriend Rosie (Anna Hutchinson), her 15-year-old sister Sammy (Rose McIver), the girl caught up in the scandal, and his teammates 'Morts’ (Josh Helman) and Franky (Angus Sampson).

Tommy is overlooked for the 2002 grand final but gets his chance in the 2003 playoff. There is minimal tension, unless games of country-league football get your juices flowing, and the confrontations, recriminations and eventual reconciliation sparked by the scandal lack passion and heat.

Given the laboured narrative (do we really need to watch Tommy running over sand hills or sparring in a boxing ring?) and banal dialogue, it would be unfair to pour scorn on the actors, who do their best with the material. One of the drawbacks of the long timespan is that Ackland’s Tommy doesn’t age a bit. At least Morts and Franky grow beards in an attempt to mark the passage of time.

That old pro Thompson is forced to utter a lot of clichés, jargon and homilies in what are meant to be motivational addresses. Non-footy fans should realise that an imprecation to 'attack the guts' doesn’t mean hurting your opponent but directing play down the middle of the ground.

At one point Chang is seen having an affair with Tommy’s mum (an under-used Zoe Carides), much to the boy’s discomfort. Curiously Gray drops that storyline and thus misses the opportunity to exploit a potentially intriguing situation.

Hutchinson and McIver are okay within the limitations of the script; neither character is well developed over the course of the film and both are reactive. Sampson brings a welcome energy and humour to the brash, extrovert Franky.

The soundtrack is laced with lively pop songs but the sugary, swirling score composed by Alies Sluiter merely reinforces the unsubtle, overly melodramatic tone.

The film is the first release from The Backlot Studios, a distribution company founded by former Paramount and Roadshow executives Tony Ianiro and Mark D’angelo. I wish them luck.