Home Pge, Site Index, Search, Help

‘Romper Stomper’ (NC-17)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 24, 1993

"Romper Stomper," an Australian film depicting the last days of a racist neo-Nazi skinhead gang in Melbourne, has elements of Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange," but what it more closely resembles is hard-core "gangsta" rap. Like that form of rap, this movie exploits the frustration, anger and violence of a despicable subculture while excusing the glorification of its hate aesthetic as necessary "reporting."

Director Geoffrey Wright, who also wrote the script, is thoroughly ambivalent in his storytelling. It's in his deft filmmaking that Wright slips: By whipping up a visceral ride through a tunnel of hate, and by making several characters likable, he creates a parable of race and rage that offers no moral position.

Wright's bully boys first appear in an opening scene in which they stomp a smaller group of Vietnamese youth in a subway station. The gang, led by the coldly charismatic Hando (Russell Crowe), is obsessed with Southeast Asian immigrants, who have taken over sections of Melbourne and are gobbling up businesses, including the gang's home bar. Their response: gleeful Asian bashing, accomplished with fists, Doc Martens boots, bats, chains and the occasional knife. None of the distanced empowerment of guns here: The ultraviolence is remarkably personal, and the getting of lumps seems to be as pleasurable as giving them out.

When a new girlfriend asks the heavily tattooed Hando about this violence, about his obsession with Nazi memorabilia and philosophy, he replies, "I don't want to be a white coolie in my own country -- 'cause it's not my own country anymore."

It never was, of course -- not for disenfranchised young whites like Hando; typically, his gang members are squatters living in abandoned factories. The increasingly multiethnic culture in evidence -- Italian food (which Hando refuses to eat) or Japanese cars (which he demolishes) -- is simply further proof of an erosion of white power, the source of these skinheads' pathetic rage. How telling that a second attack on a pair of Vietnamese provokes an equally vicious reprisal by a much larger group of young immigrants, who chase the skinheads back to their warehouse fortress and burn it down.

On the run, the skinheads are being hunted not only by the Vietnamese, but also by the police. They are now refugees, homeless and clueless. Matters are further complicated by the arrival of Gabe (Jacqueline McKenzie), a punk little rich girl who is gradually revealed as a cruel, self-centered psychotic, a situation no doubt resulting from incest with her film producer father.

Hando and Gabe couple briefly, and then she slips over to Hando's right-fist man, Davey (Daniel Pollock). It's hard to define this as a love triangle, but it does create a final scenario in which larger issues devolve to simpler ones of loyalty and trust. By this time, the gang has disintegrated, and Hando is the last angry yob.

Like gangsta rap, "Romper Stomper" is filled with enough dire consequences to dastardly actions that the old Hayes Code censors would have approved. But so might raging, disassociated adolescents who see the power of family in packdom, who feed off the adrenaline of hate and violence. The film does this as well -- there is a kinetic rush to the beatings, even to a skinhead party. Wright is clearly a terrific filmmaker; the look, the pace, the zippy editing are all remarkably efficient. And from Crowe, McKenzie and Pollock, he gets appropriately harrowing performances.

Despite its reputation as one of the most violent films in Australian history, "Romper Stomper" is not particularly gruesome in its effects. Its rage boils inside the actors, inside the story. But it's so misdirected that Wright could just as easily have titled his film "Rebel Without a Clue."

"Romper Stomper" is rated NC-17 and contains explicit language, violence, sexual acts and nudity.

Copyright The Washington Post

Back to the top

Home Page, Site Index, Search, Help