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'Newcastle' is a coming-of-age/family drama/surfing movie. 17-year old Jesse lives in the shadow of his older brother Victor's failure to become surfing's Next Big Thing. Even when he's in his natural habitat of magnificent surf breaks, his blue-collar future is brought home by the coal barges that constantly line his horizon. Jesse has the natural skills to surf his way out of this reality and onto the international circuit but can he overcome his equally natural ability to sabotage himself? A momentous weekend away with his mates that includes first love and tragedy leads him to discover what's really important, and also to the performance of a lifetime. Written by
This is a great film, make no mistake about it. Mr. Castle, the writer/director, uses a fusion of cinematic styles: French New Wave, Italian Neorealism, and classical Hollywood cinema, to create something truly original and consequential. His masterful integration of cinematography, editing, sound manipulation, and music track create a sense of memory, what it feels like to be a 17 year old, trying to figure out one's place in the world.
Thus, I don't think this is a film for teenagers - all the chaos and noise and music and confusion and rage and elation and sexual discovery feel perfectly normal to them. It also lacks the idiotic vulgarity of most teen flicks or the reassuring confirmation of the norm that an "American Graffiti" or a John Hughes movie might offer. That's not to say that some mature teens and 20-somethings won't get the film, I just think an adult's perspective gives this film its punch.
It's the little moments in which "Newcastle" absolutely soars, as when the six friends are speeding in their vehicle, radio blaring with their favorite song on, all of them joining in. It's like the real life version of that scene in "Wayne's World" when "Bohemian Rhapsody" comes on. What's captured on film is that feeling of youthful exuberance, of having your friends and being in that moment even if ten minutes later you'll be at each other's throats for something ridiculous or mean-spirited.
Stylistic choices aside, what makes this film great is the way in which its subject matter is considered. These young men are all on the verge of manhood, trying on different identities, struggling with who they are and what they will become. The naturalistic tension that arises from their competitive, testosterone-driven natures and the Bad Choices they continually make reminded me of the men who populate Scorcese's films or the troubled young men from "Saturday Night Fever." Their friendships have the potential to be lethal. As do the sibling rivalries and father-son relationships.
And it's all performed with such ease and lack of pretense by the gifted, well-directed cast. I can sense this film's influence on the later, Oscar-nominated Australian film, "Animal Kingdom." So what's sad and shocking was how little critical attention this film received. One might speculate on the reasons for this: The (too?) subtle way in which it examines the issues of ambition and destiny? The unapologetic gay character who's neither a Monster, Martyr, nor Mary? Its usage of certain Hollywood elements? I don't know.
What I do know is that this is a thoughtful, masterful piece of cinema that deserves to be seen.
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