It is not a hard stretch to watch Russell Crowe in Romper Stomper and see him playing Maximus in Gladiator. Both exhibit Crowe as a fine, masculine actor who can turn from fearless pugilist to protective guardian. They are also the reason he was thrust into the Hollywood A-list stratosphere.
Romper Stomper follows the violent, angry exploits of a gang of western Melbourne, Nazi skin-heads with plenty of well staged, kinetic brawls with the neighboring Vietnamese gangs. “Ron Hagen's camera work captures the delirium of carnage that drives out rational thought.” 1
Following a very Darwinian order of behaviour, Crowe plays Hando, the Alpha male of the pack and all others vie for position. Demonstrating that young men need to know who’s in charge and where they stand, often times a gang is the most attractive alternative when the traditional role models fail. These young men feel alienated and powerless in a changing world. They strike out against the “gooks” to give themselves identity and control.
Jacqueline McKenzie (as Gabe) is very cute in one of her early screen roles and Daniel Pollock as Davey shares screen time as a more reflective, sensitive group member. The rest of the boys are little more than a leering, unruly collective that act as a back-drop to a film that is a part Clockwork Orange, part American History X and psychologically at least owe much to Lord of the Flies.
The last third of the film does not capitalise on the powerful first hour as Hando, Davey and Gabe hit the road. I suppose the fissures exposed in the group earlier kind of come full circle and as Uncle Remus said to Brer Rabbit, “you can’t run away from trouble, there ain’t no place that far.”
Writer/director Geoffrey Wright has only done a small handful of films since this, the most recent was last year’s Macbeth which was not reviewed kindly.
1 Peter Travers, Rolling Stone