THE MERGER: Starring Damian Callinan, Kate Mulvany, John Howard, Fayssal Bazzi. Directed by Mark Grentell. Rated M (Coarse language). Running time: 103 minutes
By Arnie Hurdoyal
THERE seems to be a new excitement going around in the past couple of years when it comes to Australian-made motion pictures being released thanks to a new wave of quality films such as the The Dressmaker (2015), Last Cab to Darwin (2015), Lion (2016) and Sweet Country (2017) proving that independent Australian film makers and producers can match their Hollywood counterparts without having millions of dollars being thrown at them.
The Merger is locally made and produced, supported by the NSW Government along with the Wagga Wagga City Council and is written by comedian Damian Callinan (Spicks and Specks, Backyard Ashes and Skithouse).
Callinan’s experience on screen and off screen (three awards for Best Performance at the Melbourne Comedy Festival) puts him in a prime spot to also star as the lead character.
The scene is set in Bodgy Creek, a small struggling town in the middle of New South Wales.
The drought won’t let up, jobs are scarce after the main mill is shut down and the footy club is in strife.
Due to lack of funds, resources, good players and results, the proud club is staring at the options of either folding or worse, merging with another club.
Meanwhile, former AFL player and town hero-turned villain Troy Carrington (Callinan) is living a hermit-like life just outside town, feeling sorry for himself and making artisan wines for a living in his backyard.
Most Bodgy Creek residents call him “Townkiller” after his post-AFL social justice endeavour led to the closing of the mill.
After befriending young Neil (Rafferty Grierson) and Neil’s mother Angie (Kate Mulvany), “Townkiller” is coerced into coaching the dwindling club back into shape and back on the scoreboard.
Carrington inadvertently makes himself more of a villain when he decides to invite some of the town’s refugees, who have come through Angie’s new refugee support centre, to play for the footy club.
This change of culture seems to be a bit too much for key figures in town such as Angie’s father-in-law and club president Bull (John Howard) and star player “Carpet Burn” (Angus McLaren).
Carrington’s bold actions takes the town on a new journey but ultimately a change of heart and attitude will decide the club’s fate.
What is so fascinating about this tale is the multiple personal journeys that the audience are taken on – Carrington’s personal struggle with identity, Neil’s mourning of his father, Bull’s hard heart, the refugees’ finding their place in the community.
Callinan manages to converge many different walks of life into one common goal, simultaneously covering several human themes that include grief, forgiveness, acceptance and compromise.
At the same time, these heavy themes are counter-balanced with a constant barrage of true Aussie comedy, keeping the mood light and adding colour to many of the town’s unique characters.
The film displays a great sense of community, making real some of the issues that can arise in a small country town and highlighting the need to work together to overcome challenge.
The film title itself speaks more into balancing the old and the new, especially the importance of evolving with new circumstances for the good of all.
Director Mark Grentell takes the opportunity to showcase some of the beautiful country sceneries with amazing scenes in canola fields and vineyards, and wide shots of football fields with the help of cinematographer Tony Luu (a Vietnamese refugee himself).
Both men get very creative in their shots to best capture day-to-day life in the country and the inbound foreign cultures.
The Merger is an intimate affair and so, while the personal climaxes are not explosive, they are still powerful.
These stories are based on real-life experiences by all those involved in production.
The Merger won’t blow your mind nor reveal anything new, but it is a low-budget film made with a lot of heart, containing some of life’s great messages and casting our minds out of our inner-city bubble.
Verdict: 4/5 Excellent