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It is called the Australian Sopranos. There are two problems with this
tag: Underbelly is not as good as Sopranos and, unlike Sopranos, it is
all too real.
I am a Melburnian. I have worked in Carlton for seven years. Most of the members of the Carlton Crew were familiar to me, although I have never met any of them. Alphonse Gangitano was often referred to as the Robert de Niro of the Lygon Street not after the actor, whatever his real personality is, but after the characters he played in films like Goodfellas and Godfather Part 2. It was obvious to all that have known him that Gangitano was imitating art and this was true for the rest of the so called "crew". On the other side of the non-existent proverbial fence were the suburban kids that had not known a life without violence Dino, Benji, Carl Melbourne has been mentioned more than once in the past decade as the 'most livable city in the world. It cannot be too far from the truth. It has the most of the charms of the best cities of the globe from New York to Paris to Barcelona without their accompanying woes. It also has a dark side, as dark as anything that you would find in Detroit, Marseilles, or Bangkok. Between 1994 and 2005, this alter ego of the city crept into surface of the cultured, intellectual and tolerant Melbourne. True to the title of Bugsy Siegel's biography 'they only killed their own' (mostly) but they did in broad daylight, in front of children, suburban mothers and 'more than innocent'bystanders. One of the safest cities in the world was suddenly in the spotlight as one of the most violent until the forces of the light (played by the detectives of Purana task force) put a stop to it.
What we know is that most of these hard men who lived as if there was no law, no rules, no morals and no tomorrow, also lived life as if they were actors in a movie. The news footage of the funerals (and there were more than two dozen of them) could as well have been taken from the episodes of Sopranos. They idolized the likes of the fictional characters in films such as Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Goodfellas, Godfather trilogy, and Sopranos, because this is what drug dealers, bank robbers and career killers do between 'jobs', workouts and fornication: They watch films. It was life imitating art imitating life. Those, like me, who watched the whole scene unfolding in front of them (I used to live in the apartment building that was 200 metres from the club where Lewis Moran met his end) with a fascination bordering on the perverse, wondered about the price of real freedom. Were these men really evil or were they simply more courageous than the rest of us? Perhaps, they were both My middle-class friends looked at me with expressions ranging from surprise to disgust when I posed the question to them, only half joking.
Underbelly is a flawed series in a number of ways. Producers' insistence on choosing actors both with local popularity and a striking resemblance to their real-life counterparts takes its toll on the quality of the acting. It is, to say the least, uneven. So are the scripts Way too much emphasis on fornication, after the point is well made, and too much pondering on the popular taste formed by our, now world-famous, serials: Neighbours and Home and Away.
Let me assure the viewers foreign to the current affairs of fair Melbourne: All the public incidents in these series have really happened and their recreation is eerily similar to reality.
i thought this might be quite rushed. However I disagree with other
Each episode drags you into the underworld of the famous gangland killings in Melbourne.
I really like that Caroline Craig narrates. At points in this drama it does make you feel quite upset and also sad.
There are a lot of familiar faces if you have watched Australian TV/movies before.
I am currently up to episodes 8 and it's getting better with every episode.
I think it takes a few episodes to get into it.
As a rule although I love many an Australian actor I usually hate the writing/production. Underbelly has changed all of that for me and I'll be revisiting some other Aussie dramas that previously I've written off. The acting is great, the soundtrack is really great, the writing makes the whole story easy to follow. I'm seriously impressed and can't wait to see the last few episodes. I've got the book and the mini series is fairly accurate, but it's important to remember that this is a dramatization and not a doco so some differences are to be expected. roberta is a crack up. alex dimitriades as Mr T, hooooooooot. Dino Dibra, wasn't until I looked on here and saw he was on h&a that I figured out who on H&A and why he was so familiar, very impressive. you *SHOULD* watch it.
Just wanted to respond to some people's comments on how bad Underbelly
is, well it completely hooked me in! I was quite hesitant at first
because I often don't go for Aussie dramas, but saw half of the first
episode by chance and am officially addicted.
Others have been saying it's like watching an episode of Neighbours, well maybe that's because so many of the actors in it had their starts in Neighbours or Home and Away. That's not to say the acting is as bad as in these soap operas. I was pleasantly surprised with the actor's abilities and portrayals of the characters. I was impressed with how many of the actors looked very similar to the people they were portraying.
What can I say about 9's Underbelly? Best Australian TV show of the
decade, so far, for a start. Unlikely to be out done. Channel 9's
Underbelly is the most significant piece of Televisual cinematic art to
grace our tube's since Blue Murder. Comparable to a hyper active season
of The Soprano's, it is a major classic series that depicts the 25 or
so murders of the Melbourne gangland wars.
At the center of the series is Carl Williams character/ real life OG, played portly and excellently by Gyton Grantley. William's is given an interesting character arc, starting as a lowly Moran driver and slowly moving into producing his own Ecstasy tablets and cornering the market by under selling the competition. Into Williams life comes Roberta, played with a bravora performance by Kat Stewart. She is a gutter mouth shrew who eggs Williams on to bigger crimes and higher times. Together they are the crazed heart of the show. A suburban Bonnie and Clyde. They are completely mythologized in the show. The real Carl and Roberta Williams say they were nothing like the pair, but it doesn't matter too much. The on screen pair are classic gangster characters, reborn, Melbourne style late 90's... in tracky daks and pushing prams, while planning hits.
I should say apart from a few small minor bad apples, the show is exceptionally well cast. Vince Colosimo was born to play Alphonse Gangitano and gives a great opening to the show. If only we could have seen more Vince, but as we all know the Gangitano murder sparked off the war, so he bows out early in his designer suits and tassled loafers. Les Hill and Callam Mulvey nail the Moran brothers... all old school gangster machismo and violence. They are the old power in Melbourne that Williams is out to overcome and then silence after they shoot him in the gut fatefully one afternoon. Kevin Harrington is truly superb as Lewis Moran, he looks and acts just like the real deal from news footage. As an aging gangster in over his head and torn apart by family tragedy, Harrington is excellent. Damian Walshe Howling is central also as Benji Veniaman, a hit-man with divided loyalties. Kind of like a better looking Scott Ryan from The Magician, Benji is a major catalyst in the war with the Carlton crew. The Carlton crew are led (in the show!!) by what appears to be its Godfather Mick Gatto (another great thesp turn by Simon Westaway, capturing the Gatto mannerisms and front). Gatto is the mysterious man at the top of the Carlton tree. An old school gangster, with style and a peace maker, essentially. The violent war shocks him and he does his best to cool the heads of the younger hooligans. Westaway's Gatto is a man of cool respect and one on one Violence only... in the Benji confrontation scene. He is the foil to Williams wild colonial E dealer. Side kick to Gatto is Mario Condello, spot on portrayed by Martin Sacks in probably his best role yet. Condello is a loan shark and money man forced into the big chair of the Carlton crew when Gatto is arrested for Benji's shooting and on the run from William's endless supply of hit men. Throw in an amazing ensemble, see cast list and you have gangster gold.
Add to all this mayhem from the characters above the Keystone cops of The Purana task force. The best character is Steve Owen, who wants to bend the rules to catch these guys and stop the war and murders. Rodger Corser plays Owen as an edgy cop ready to go toe to toe (if anybody would let him) with William's and crew. You wonder why he wasn't allowed to? Indeed, the accusation of the Police sitting around and letting these crims bump themselves off seems somewhat validated in the show. Many scenes where the Police know a hit is happening but fail to swoop on suspects until after the alleged murder (due to some unbelievable technical difficulty) are shown here. Sort of making them accessories of sorts (by incompetence, generally) in the crimes they are trying to stop. Frankie Holden's Detective Butterworth is a short breed eating 'by the book', discombobulated by events head of Purana and Caroline Craig's Jacquie James, is the perfunctory female cop, ala Blue Heelers, narrator and moral compass.
Its a damn shame it can't be aired on 9 locally.
The shows direction has been criticised by friends and while I agree it could have been more cutting edge... that could have made it Internationally brilliant, as good as The Soprano's. The direction is competent and pretty good Oz TV work, moving the story ahead, superb casting as mentioned and lively use of cool Aussie music, etc.
I must say the show is actually meaningful. Has real content. It is profound in its portrayal of Williams as a young upstart good guy, who is slowly corrupted by ambition, his wife, drugs, legitimate threats on his own life and other issues. Even when he becomes a killer he still is a nice guy to friends and family, generous and caring with money, etc., this all makes the Williams character sympathetic. After he is shot in the park by Jason Moran, Williams appears to go a bit 'postal'. He soon escalates the cycle of violence for which the real Williams is now serving his 35 years. But you can't help feel bad for the Underbelly Williams. If he wanted to succeed and stay alive in his chosen profession, could he have acted otherwise? The journey of Williams in Underbelly is one of the more profound Australian tales in many a moon. It resonates, it mostly true from the base facts of the case. Highly recommended Oz TV. Hunt it down overseas readers.
Review by MUFF director Richard Wolstencroft
The connection between Sopranos and this series is not far-fetched. Like that show it shows a life of crime and how these gangsters deal with their family. After having seen five episodes more depth is shown and it gets real clear that things will get very nasty indeed. The acting by the cast is superb. And it was good to see Calvan Mulvey (Heartbreak High) return in a much more mature role. What I liked especially in this show that it doesn't exactly choose sides. It is not just about the police getting the bad guys. They also show that even the gangsters have their morals and aren't entirely evil as most people would have us believe. But it doesn't glamorize the life of crime either. When necessary it does show the impact of the crimes committed. Excellent show!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Just started watching this one this week. I have started at season 1
even though I hear you don't need it to be able to enjoy the new
series. This show is so well made though, I am exceedingly impressed
more with each episode I watch. There is just this building story that
is getting bigger the more new characters we are introduced to. If you
have seen the Shield, and the Wire already, then this should be your
Added March 03 2014 - If Season 1 is like the Sopranos, then Season two was like Miami Vice meets Life on Mars. Season 2 is a complete prequel, and it is just as good if not at some times better than the first. The addition of Anna Hutchison, and that Farrah Fawcett hair, and the charismatic Matt Passmore from The Glades (before The Glades)I would call season 2 the "pretty years".
Added March 18 2014 - Season 3. For season 3 we are simply following season 2 from the late 80's into the mid to early 90's. and we follow once again both the good, and the bad people of Sydney. This season is very drama/action oriented and it is all about the "Golden mile" the downtown strip of Sydney where there always seem to be 2 rivals working to sell drugs on either side of the street, while police corruption finally meets it's match, and the people who try to make a living just getting by are shown coming, and going. This season is not as flashy as season 2, but it is just as gritty. We get as usual some very brilliant women who are just as key to the story as any man with the story of Wendy Jones the Mother of the Detective who's daughter will be one of the mighty forces from the first season, and of Kim Hollingsworth The girl who comes to Sydney with a dream of joining the force, but keeps getting forced back into the life she only wanted to try out.
Added March 21 2014 - So season 1 was the Sopranos, and 2 was Miami vice, the 4th season is Boardwalk Empire, except because it is Underbelly, and Australia, the power players are the women. Kate, and Tilly. These women were the real players in Sydney for years, and as usual this season only covers about a decade, but is is quite an active one compared to the first 3 seasons as you can tell in the fact that it takes the first 8 episodes just to get through the first 3-4 years. The acting in this season is just as good as any of the past 3, and though there is far less death, when the razors come to play it really is a new ball game. It took me a couple of episodes longer to warm to this season, but in the end I may have Enjoyed it more than the others so far. Also the narration has continued with Caroline Craig doing a great job, and the wrap up at the end is extraordinary. I would bet money that "Big" Jim Devine actually thought he was running things. (he reminds me so much of my own uncle)
Added March 22 2014 - Yeah they are shorter seasons from here on looks like. Like climbing a mountain, you will eventually reach the top, and have to descend, but that does not mean that the view becomes any less spectacular, or in this case the story acting, and depth. Season 5 we are in yet another decade of a Sidney based view of the good, and the bad, this time around it is 2001-2012 and now that there are only 8 episodes it goes just a little bit faster(though at time it feels repetitive as they will have a specific flashback referenced more than once in an episode). The cast this season is made up of Jonathan LaPaglia who most will remember from 7 Days as the evil, and Matt Nable does a great job playing the dedicated Good cop. This was really the first season that did not reflect really any police corruption, they spoke of Chook in an argument, but that's as far as it ever went. So as I mentioned this was shorter, though I hope I have made it clear that you will not end up with less, in fact the fact that this is more contemporary made things feel more real. the wrap and dedication brought me to a misty place, and I never thought when it started I would end up really caring for Frank, but Aaron Jeffery just plays him so human. Nice.
Hunt down UNDERBELLY it is from Australia, and you can easily compare it to the best from any other country in the world. You will not be sorry. Surprised a lot, and given to fits of laughter yes, but not even the slightest bit sorry. Find it, Watch it, Share your opinions.
I really can't say enough good things about this show. Each season we
are introduced to a whole new cast of characters and series of events
spanning over roughly a decade for each series. The show does a
beautiful job of spanning over several years without feeling like
anything is rushed or left out. Each episode feels like a mini saga of
it's own, with new challenges and conflicts facing the characters that
it focuses on. We watch characters grow from amateurs to professionals
in a matter of episodes and it all feels very real. Also, as we see at
the beginning of each episode, it is all based on real events. A quick
search on the Internet will reveal that almost all characters and
events are very close to their real counterparts. I could go on about
the attention to detail in the story lines and the the top notch acting
all around but you should just watch and see for yourself.
Note: I'm writing this review having just finished watching season 3 of Underbelly, which is unfortunately the last season available to me on Netflix here in the U.S.
I loved watching every episode of the underbelly series. The moment you finish one episode, you cant help yourself but to start the next one. Amongst all the characters being played my favorite was Alphonse Gangitano played by Vince Colismo. He was too good. The series picks up momentum again with the introduction of Benji. I loved performance of Gyton Grantley throughout the series portraying Carl Williams. I recommend watching this to all. In all it is a great fun.The series is like a ticking time bomb and gets you involved with every episode. Though a lot of characters were in and out at short intervals, my personal opinion is the characters of Alphonse Gangitano, Jason Moran, Carl Williams, Roberta Williams, Benji were portrayed very well.
This is no easy subject to film and is still restricted in its distribution in Australia due to possible legal issues. I found it excellent. The cast is necessarily large and the acting exceptional. The gangsters really look evil and the blend of drugs, excessive sex and violence gives a chilling insight into this nether world of gangland culture. It is shot on location in Melbourne. The case is well known locally and despite it being a dramatization it runs more like a real life fly-on-the-wall documentary. For me it out Sopranoed the Sopranos and is one of the best gangster films Australia has ever produced. See it if you can. I watched all 13 episodes straight through!!
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