BLINDER. Starring Oliver Ackland, Jack Thompson, Rose McIvor. Directed by Richard Gray. Rated M (mature themes and coarse language). 119 mins.

Richard Gray’s previous film, Summer Coda, told a story of a woman returning home from the US to a town in north west Victoria, near Swan Hill. It looked beautiful and captured the atmosphere of the area with a humane story.

This time Gray still stays west of Melbourne but on the Bellarine Peninsula. A man returns from the US again and has to deal with the past. BUT, this is a film about Australian Rules which ought to be of interest to all follwers of the code but is certainly for fans west of Geelong. However, given the fierce loyalties to the AFL, the VFL and local clubs and some narrowly parochial attitudes, it might not draw in the audiences. Distribution in Melbourne itself was in only three cinemas and with minimum advertising. I just checked, after a week it has disappeared. What a pity.

For football fans, the film has about five substantial sequences of matches, finals and grand-finals, centering on the Tigers’ Club at Torquay. There are practice sessions, club meetings, pep talks. And the main pep is given vigorously by coach, Jack Thompson, going back to his role in The Club.

But, the main thing is a human story. There is a party sequence at the opening which is crucial to the plot but it comes too early for us to work out who’s who and what actually happens. It does get sorted out eventually, but keeps us wondering whether we missed something.

Tom (Oliver Ackland) is the Torquay star but is poor in discipline and team spirit (still a worry for football and cricket!). Caught up in a scandal (that’s the part that is not clear until quite late), he goes to the US for ten years as a coach. When he receives news that the coach has died, he decides to come home for the funeral and to meet the key characters from the past. Into that framework, we have a great number of flashbacks which tell more of Tom’s story, including those matches, than might have been expected and presents him in a better light). While the scandal proves to be significant for those involved, it is not nearly as strong as many of the scandalous stories of sports celebrities that we are treated to in media news, articles and radio and TV reports.

It is a matter of immaturity, rash behaviour, publicity, consequences for lives and reputations. The latter part of the film is quite interesting in showing how the main characters deal with it ten years later.

The film is quite watchable, has a good cast, with Jack Thompson leading the way in ra-ra challenges to his players, and the newcomer coaches at the end are unable to match his fire and expertise.

And the title? The film tells us that it is an episode of drunkenness as well as a top game and performance. Both are featured.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

Yellow Brick Films.

Out February 28th 2013.

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