'The Bra Boys' is the toughest, bloodiest surfing documentary you will ever see. That mellow, existential surfer vibe that's the image of the 'dudes' waiting for 'that perfect wave?' Not here.
This is a surfing documentary for everybody who's never actually seen a 'sucking' neck wound, blood and maybe even air gushing out, but wants to.
Think about it. You go around calling yourself a 'Bra Boy,' you'd better be tough.
The 'Bra' is this case is a surfer 'tribe' name, taken from Maroubra Beach outside Sydney, Australia. A tough neighborhood bordered by a sewage treatment plant, huge prison, rifle range and water, it has produced fearless generations of big-wave surfers, boys drawn from Australia's rough-hewn lower classes.
Fittingly, Russell Crowe, a guy who's been known to throw a punch, narrates this film, which was co-directed by one of the surfer-toughs profiled in it, Sunny Abberton. With his brothers (Koby and Jai among them), Sunny has ridden the waves out of poverty but not out of his bare-fisted ways.
'The surf has saved many kids around here,' Sunny says in the film.
But has it? The TV news footage of fights or a riot and the many scenes of bare-fisted brawls that Sunny and his crew filmed themselves suggests otherwise. Bloody dust-ups with other tribes, clashes with the local police, a day-to-day life that involves punch-outs, in and out of a boxing ring, and protecting 'their' surf with threats of violence, the movie even smooths over the degree to which the Abbertons were mixed up in the death of their abusive criminal stepfather.
'The Bra Boys' tackle surf breaks that are so dangerous, any wipe-out draws blood (and sharks). The breaks are in locations so remote that a dash to the hospital would take hours.
Take away the water and this is a dead-end kids story: cycles of violence, alcohol and drug abuse, irresponsible behavior and general rowdiness that fly in the face of the sport's more benign American image.
Fortunately, there is water, and it represents a professional way out for these boys. Many can go pro (others take up rugby), and once you've gained acceptance and the requisite tattoos, you have friends who cover your back.
Because just as in any other street gang, you're going to need that protection.
Abberton's movie does its level best to buff some of the rough edges off this rough crowd, kids whose bad grammar and thick accents require subtitles.
'The Bra Boys' has plenty of do-it-yourself grit to go with the blood. The surfing footage is good, but takes a back seat to the land environment and those shaped by it.
But as much as he suggests that surfing is a way to 'get out' of this life, you can't help but feel that he's made a movie that celebrates the very things these boys should be struggling to rise above.
*** (of 5)Director: Sunny Abberton, Macario De Souza.Starring: The four Abberton brothers, Richie "Vas" Vaculik, Kelly Slater, narrated by Russell Crowe.Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes.Industry rating: R for language, some violent content and reckless behavior.Info: There will be a screening of the movie at 8 p.m. at The Terrace tonight to benefit local charity, Kids on Boards. Call the theater at 762-9494 for details.
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