The first Australian film to be released theatrically in 2009 is The Combination, the directorial début by actor David Field (Unfinished Sky). While it may be viewed as condescending to say that it is a good effort for a first-time director, it nevertheless acknowledges that while The Combination is not a perfect film, it is a very good one with excellent intentions. Set in the western suburbs of Sydney, The Combination focuses on the experiences of the current Lebanese-Australian community and the racial tensions between this community and other sections of Australian society. The film depicts both the rich cultural traditions that the Lebanese community have brought to Australia and the problem of gang violence among the younger generation. The Combination does not condone the attitudes and actions of the hotheaded young gang members but it does try to show the audience where their frustrations and anger have come from.
At the centre of the film is John, played by George Basha who also wrote the screenplay and co-produced the film with Field, and until now had only previously appeared on film in Blackrock. John has just been released from prison and is determined to start life anew. He begins a relationship with Anglo-Saxon girl Sydney (début actor Clare Bowen), to the concern of her parents, and attempts to steer his young brother Charlie (Firass Dirani from The Black Balloon) away from the thugs he hangs out with at school and away from the clutches of a local crime boss. Charlie is initially resentful of John’s intervention but when the violence at school begins to escalate beyond just beating up the kids who racially taunt them, Charlie is confronted with some brutal truths.
The main problems with The Combination are certain aspects of Basha’s script, which is too obviously influenced by American films such as American History X and Boyz n the Hood. There are also a few too many moments that have clearly been written to express specific ideas or themes and these moments occasionally feel laboured. They also tend to be the moments where the acting falters, as Field does not always restrain his actors from over emoting. The end of the film is also problematic as it struggles to reconcile the film’s anti-violence message with providing a satisfyingly cathartic resolution.
However, nothing can be faulted with the ideas explored in The Combination and it provides an excellent depiction of the types of attitudes, actions and emotions that fuel incidents like the Cronulla riots. Field’s direction is mostly strong and the film is visually impressive. The acting is also overall very good and it is great to see the underrated actor John Brumpton (Redball, Dance Me to My Song) in a small but significant role as Sydney’s father. His “I’m not a racist but” speech initially seems a little bit forced until you realise that he is actually articulating the insidious way that so many Anglo-Saxon Australians speak and feel. The Combination has a number of strengths making it a film worth tracking down.