A violent thrill ride through Sydney's western burbs, with just enough realism to make the carnage plausible.
Image: The Combination Redemption. Source: Pinnacle Films.
Who are Australian films aimed at? The answer seems obvious: anyone willing to pay for a ticket. But with a small industry and limited resources – both financial and creative – some genres are always going to miss out. So when the Facebook page for The Combination Redemption says it’s “Finally An Australian Film Made In The Suburbs, For The Suburbs”, it’s fair to ask: have the suburbs really been missing out on crime sagas involving racist thugs and street violence and evil drug kingpins? Not if they have working television sets, as this is territory well covered by everything from Underbelly to Bite Club to the recent Romper Stomper series.
To be fair, 2009’s The Combination did do a solid job of depicting life in Sydney’s western suburbs, even if it had the misfortune to share basically the same plot (rough inner-city boxer from another culture falls for an Aussie girl while struggling with shady goings-on) as that year’s Two Fists, One Heart. The Combination Redemption opens six years later, which begs the question: was that film set in the future or is this one set in the past? Unfortunately at least one of the plot strands here, involving an openly racist politician stirring up hate with the help of a gang of street thugs, is timeless.
There doesn’t seem to be much of a future ahead for John Morkos (John Basha, who wrote the script) either: at the end of the first film he saw his brother gunned down, and now every night he wakes up seeing it happen over and over again. By day he works as a boxing trainer at a gym run by Wes (the late Tony Ryan), but he’s barely keeping it together. When Wes (who is easily the strongest character in the film) orders John to a shrink (Abbey Aziz), he goes but doesn’t say anything – then asks her out on a date.
The romance that follows (he’s Christian, she’s from a devout Muslim family constantly trying to marry her off) provides a nice contrast to the rest of the blood-splattered story, as small time drug dealer Mo (Rahel Romahn) rips off kingpin Nas (Johnny Nasser), sparking a wave of violence across the Western Sydney community. Well, another wave of violence, as a gang of skinhead thugs led by Bryan (Taylor Wiese) have already decided it’s time to fight for their right to be white. Bryan’s younger brother Mark (Andre de Vanny) is currently training with John; no prizes for guessing how that goes down with the White Pride Posse.
Director David Field (best known for acting in everything from No Activity and The Secret Daughter to Chopper and The Night We Called It A Day; The Combination is his only other directing credit) definitely keeps the energy levels up, though his grab-bag of showy tricks sometimes detracts from the story he’s telling. Occasionally the pulp thrills slide into exploitation-era nastiness too. There’s one scene involving the death of an innocent woman that’s dragged out to lurid levels, seemingly just to rub the audience’s face in the horror of violent crime.
Not that this is a quiet night out at the movies: at least six people are gunned down, alongside numerous bashings, one accidental drowning, and a handful of well staged and brutal boxing matches. But this isn’t trying to be Breath or Sweet Country, let alone The Last Days of Chez Nous. This is a violent thrill ride with evil baddies, two-fisted good guys, and just enough realism in the setting and situations to make the carnage seem plausible. A version of this film that dialled down the violence and played up the day-to-day struggle of western suburbs life might be more worthy, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near as entertaining.
The Combination Redemption
Director: David Field
Australia, 2019, 1hr 43min
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