Directed By: Geoffrey Wright
Starring: Russell Crowe, Daniel Pollock, Jacqueline McKenzie
Tag line: "You've never seen anything like it"
Trivia: Daniel Pollock, who plays Davey, committed suicide before the film's release
Years before he played the hero in movies like The Insider, Gladiator, and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Russell Crowe was Hando, a neo-Nazi skinhead in the 1992 Australian crime / drama Romper Stomper. And believe me, his character in this film is as far from heroic as you can possibly get!
Hando and his gang of thugs, which includes his best friend Davey (Daniel Pollock), patrol the streets of Melbourne, harassing (and sometimes attacking) the city’s ever-growing Vietnamese population. One day, while he and his cronies are hanging out at the local bar, Hando meets Gabrielle (Jacqueline McKenzie), a drug addict looking for a place to stay. It isn’t long before the two are an item, much to the chagrin of Davey, who is himself falling in love with Gabrielle. To make matters worse, the Vietnamese have decided that enough is enough, and have formed a small army to stand against Hando and his gang. Following a violent rumble, the skinheads are forced to find a new place to live, and, once there, dedicate most of their free time to planning their revenge.
Romper Stomper begins with a brutal scene in which three Vietnamese teens, who were simply riding their skateboards through a subway tunnel, are savagely beaten by Hando and the others. It’s the first of many sequences that take us deep inside the skinhead subculture; at one point, Hando, whose bedroom is decorated with swastikas and Nazi paraphernalia, tries to impress Gabrielle by reading her passages from Mein Kampf. This, along with its unique soundtrack (many tunes feature lyrics that attack minorities and promote white supremacy) and spirited fight sequences (including one big-ass rumble), gives the film’s entire first half an energy all its own.
Moments after Hando and his skinheads are driven out of the warehouse they called home, Romper Stomper settles down a bit, allowing us to learn a few things about its main characters (including why Gabrielle has such a strained relationship with her father) while also permitting the various romantic subplots to play themselves out. It’s in these scenes that the movie’s young performers prove their worth, especially Crowe, who shines as the violently bigoted Hando, a character you love to hate.
An energetic and sometimes shocking exposé of racism at its worst, Romper Stomper also works as a drama, and while it certainly isn’t an easy film to watch, I’m betting you’ll be glad did.