Barky (Marty Denniss) returns to his inner Sydney home suburb for his father's funeral. There he is reunited with his brother (Hugh Jackman), ex-girlfriend (Leah Vandenberg) and friends, but the soon discovers those underlying issues which drove Barky away in the first place have not disappeared entirely.
It's a hot summer Sunday in Sydney. Barky, Marty Denniss, arrives by train at Central and walks to Erskineville, down empty streets, past rundown shops and houses, alongside graffiti left over from another era. Barky has come home after two years up north – as he re-connects with mates, with his ex-girlfriend, Lanny, Leah Vandenberg, and, eventually, with his brother, Wace, Hugh Jackman, we gather he ran away to escape his abusive father. But the father is dead, and the family bitterness he created has to be faced...
This is one of the most strikingly photographed Australian films in a long time: image after image of the inner-suburban streets and houses are beautifully framed and shot like a series of evocative still lifes. The story itself is familiar, though: the theme of the family reunion because of the death or illness of a parent has become a tiresome cliche.
Erskineville Kings has a stagey feel to it – but the screenplay, by Anik Chooney – (the real name of lead actor Marty Denniss) – is an original, albeit a wordy and literal one. The characters in the film have a lot to say, but they don't communicate much. Yet they're an interesting bunch, and Hugh Jackman gives another strong performance as the aggressive Wace while Leah Vandenberg is refreshing as Lanny.
Margaret's comments: There's a very real story at the heart of Erskineville Kings but the wordy nature of the screenplay tends to obscure it rather than reveal it. Every issue, every past resentment is over verbalised. I found it difficult to believe that men stand around in bars exposing their private lives in this way in front of their friends. You just wish that every scene where characters get together wasn't a reason for excessive dialogue. It seems rather stagey in contrast to the way director Alan White has shot it, with starkly composed images of grotty urban landscapes. And the theme music tends to be intrusively overused. The load put on the performers is actually quite heavy. Hugh Jackman and Aaron Blabey fare best. Jackman's screen presence is electrifying and ultimately very moving. However, this film was made under extremely strained circumstances and knowing that, it's quite an achievement. Visually Allan White demonstrates an impressive artistry, it will be interesting seeing what he can achieve with a screenplay pared to the bone.