Coach Frank Caruso and his team of amateur soccer hopefuls are on their way to winning the league cup... except they can't win a game and their worst enemies are themselves. But with the Socceroos on their way to victory in Germany, maybe the boys can leave their problems behind them as they battle towards the Grand Final. Written by
My favourite Australian movie of 2009, "Offside" is a boisterous story about old friends. It works as a tribute to a major strand of suburban Adelaide society and I think that in years to come it will be regarded with the same sentimental fondness many Sydney people feel for "The FJ Holden" (1977), or Melbourne people (such as myself) feel for "Death in Brunswick" (1991).
This is a story about two brothers who want the same thing, but go after it in different ways. For Charlie (Terry Rogers), it's all about winning; for Frank (Peter Evangelista), the quest is football excellence. Meanwhile, their suburban team is made up of old school friends who have a range of issues of their own. Damon (Peter Michell) is married to Isabella (Elena Carapetis), who is slowly turning her ocker* husband into an Italian. Angelo (Sam Tripodi) is married to Lisa (Kimberley Hart); she wants him to focus on starting a family. Kon (Frank Romeo) and Mark (Saxon Cordeaux) are slackers; they work for Sarah (Chloe Gardner), who fancies Charlie. And Charlie fancies Katie (Georgii Speakman), the unattainable sexy blonde with a secret.
The guys are all approaching the end of their football careers. Family responsibilities, age and business pressures combine to make this their last season together and they would love to go out as champions. To this end, they embrace serious training and adopt a few questionable tactics. When Uncle Vito, the godfather of the piece, backs the boys to win the cup to the tune of $50,000, the tensions increase.
Meanwhile, Charlie's search for true love hits a major hurdle. In a moment reminiscent of Harvey Keitel's problem updated to 2009 sensibilities in the Martin Scorsese movie, "Who's That Knocking At My Door" (1967), Charlie has to decide if Katie is the kind of girl he can safely take home to mother. This film contains other muted echoes of Scorsese's struggle with his Catholic upbringing, suggesting first-time writer/director Gian Carlo is emerging from a similar place.
Terry Rogers (Charlie) and Peter Evangelista (Frank) carry the movie. Rogers brings athletic good looks, excellent timing and the kind of smoldering sensitivity that would play well in a major romantic comedy. (He managed a number of scenes with his shirt off and looked good enough to embarrass Hugh Jackman.) Peter Evangelista makes a welcome return to the screen after a long absence. He has the kind of quiet intelligence you can see on the screen and the calm he managed in the midst of turbulent exuberance made the whole thing work.
Special mention to Elena Carapetis (Isabella), for me the 'find' of the movie. It turns out she is a NIDA graduate and has been around the stage and television ("Heartbreak High", "Blue Heelers") scenes for years, but I hadn't come across her before. Elena played the sensible, caring wife with absolute conviction. If she gets the opportunity in other roles, she has a chance of becoming one of the great Australian supporting actresses.
Georgii Speakman (Katie) has the sexy good looks you'd expect of someone in her role, but she doesn't depend on them. She handles herself with timing, grace and sensitivity. Chloe Gardner (Sarah), as the ambitious pursuer of Charlie and patient boss of Kon and Mark, showed she has the potential to play an excellent James Bond-type seductive female villain.
Anthony 'Lehmo' Lehmann (Leechy) didn't rely on his background as a stand-up comedian (a welcome departure in Australian film circles), but used his limited opportunities to impose a physical and psychological presence on screen. I'd love to see him given an expanded role in another movie.
The characters in "Offside" are messy human beings, with all the anxieties, insecurities, dreams, confusions, misunderstandings and failings common to ordinary people everywhere. For anyone who grew up in an ethnic Australian neighbourhood, this film will be an amusing trip down memory lane. For people from a more Anglo background, it works as a window into a culture which is distantly familiar, yet filled with subtle differences.
Another of the surprises of this low-budget film is the music. I didn't recognise any of the band names, but the music is varied, appropriate and exciting.
"Offside" extracts every cent of value from the dollars spent, and then some. The cast turned in remarkable performances, and the crew achieved extraordinary results, given a 28 day turnaround with limited access to locations. Could it have been improved? Of course. A big bag of money would have lifted some technical areas, but it would be a mistake to focus on that too much. Sometimes the sound leaves dialogue unclear, but that's mostly in scenes where there is a lot of crowd noise, such as at parties, where crowd noise obscuring speech is a common experience. Given that this was an independent film, made without recourse to any of the government funding agencies, the results are well above any reasonable expectation.
All in all, an enjoyable movie. Highly recommended. I give it 7/10.
*ocker. Slang, meaning 'an uncouth Australian'. Typically convivial, working class Australians, with a fondness for drink and off-colour humour. Chips Rafferty, Bryan Brown, Bill Hunter, and Paul Hogan have all portrayed men from this class on screen.
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