Director: Dan Castle
Stars: Lachlan Buchanan, Xavier Samuel, Reshad Strik
The final installment of the (accidental) gay surfer trilogy that started with in 2006 the execrable Tan Lines and continued with 2007’s sweet Shelter, Newcastle bobs aimlessly between sets of dreamily but not really competently rendered surf montage sequences and loosely scripted, wandering coming-of-age scenes and the film is disconnected, disjointed - a disappointment.
Jesse (Lachlan Buchanan) lives in the shadow of his older half-brother Victor (Reshad Strik) who is swarthier, more dangerous and in his day - before he got a local girl knocked up and settled into a life in the steel mills of Newcastle to pay his ad-hoc family’s bills - a vibrant and idolised surfing champ. Jesse aims to grab a spot in the big surfing championship to snatch back some hierarchical agency and also, secure a direction in life. Meanwhile, emo youngest brother Fergus (Xavier Samuel) lusts after one of Jesse’s continuously-shirtless surfing mates.
If only Newcastle had stuck to this tight three-way set up and followed the stories of the three quite different men as they navigate their ways through one particularly crucial summer, the movie might have worked quite well. It would have been sensible to use the city that the movie is named after as a powerfully symbolic backdrop, too, rather than keep it more or less totally out of shot as cameras point out to sea, or scenes are framed inside generic gen-Y bedrooms. (Newcastle is a steel town blessed with some of Australia’s most beautiful beaches but cursed with being the last bastion of white, working class Australia, a cultural template the rest of the country gleefully left behind in the late 1950s and which it now looks back on with scorn and detachment. Also, since the main mega-corporation running the steel works pulled its operation out of Newcastle in the 1990s, the city has slid irrevocably into destitution and irrelevance. Only in recent years, as the Sydney metropolitan area located two hours drive south has edged towards conurbation has Newcastle looked to capture new ground as a sunkissed northern suburb and retreat for stressed out commuters.)
Instead, Newcastle is a string of rather meaningless action and lazy shortcuts - folk-rock music rams into scenes to underscore emotion that hasn’t been at all embedded, and all of at least five overlong surfing montages are well and poorly shot at the same time, with mismatched eye lines and discontinuous depth of field interupting skilful underwater photography and beautiful outdoor lensing that realy captures the brilliance of the Australian sun.
All I could think of while I was looking at these montages was the cascading “tropical” screen saver carousel I have on my laptop, where pictures of waves and sting rays moodily dissolve into each other with no real impact beyond saving my screen from searing hotspots.
Actually, maybe the film does convey a sense of Newcastle in the way that its ill-focussed ambitions are undone by the proximity of that beautiful coastline, and the languid laziness that induces in pretty much everyone who lives there.
One thing it definitely shares with the experience of being in Newcastle is a surfeit of off-the-charts hot guys how don’t own shirts and who have no interest beyond surfing, beer and a bit of pussy. None of the cast are dressed beyond low-slung board shorts and almost all of them are very attractive, as the gallery, below, demonstrates. Newcastle is a total hole, but if there’s a greater concentration of hotties anywhere else on Earth, I have never found it, and not for want of trying.