Given his formidable presence and equal talent, it was only a matter of time before New Zealand-born, Australian-raised Russell Crowe made the mainstream American breakthrough he enjoyed with Gladiator. Few stateside fans of that film–or his other notable U.S. work, such as “L.A. Confidential” or The Insider–have seen the film that led to his transition from Down Under, “Romper Stomper.” His work in this gritty 1992 Aussie production caught the eye of Sharon Stone, who then fought for his casting in her 1995 Sam Raimi-directed Western, “The Quick and the Dead.” The rest, as they say, is history.
In “Romper Stomper,” freshly released on DVD in the States by Fox, Crowe’s enormous ability is very much in evidence as Hando, the charismatic leader of a neo-Nazi skinhead gang. His performance is just one of three that anchor writer-director Geoffrey Wright’s film; the other two come courtesy of Daniel Pollock as Davey, a gang member who has increasing doubts about his affiliation; and Jacqueline McKenzie as Gabe, the troubled young woman whose entry into the fold speeds up the group’s inevitable destruction. Their work elevates Wright’s fairly thin and standard story, whose unadorned slice-of-life realism is undercut by its dismaying progression into a tale of a triangle.
But when Romper is firing on all cylinders, it is potent indeed; the unflinching violence–the primary contributing factor to the film’s NC-17 rating (though Fox has opted to release the disc sans rating)–gives the film a raw, sometimes discomfiting immediacy, particularly in the case of the film’s centerpiece sequence, in which the gang is chased down by an angry mob of Vietnamese immigrants. The cast, extending far beyond the core three, attacks their roles with matching intensity.
Given the film’s general obscurity in the States (it was, however, a big success–and even bigger lightning rod for controversy–in its native country), it’s surprising that Fox has given it a two-disc treatment. Disc one features a not-entirely-pristine (but still much improved) new transfer of the film plus newly recorded running commentary by Wright. Not surprisingly, a lot of what he has to say concerns the now-internationally famous Crowe, but his most memorable comments are his heartfelt ones about the talented Pollock, who tragically committed suicide during post production.
Disc two shows that Fox was stretching a bit to make this a double-disc set. The usual cast biographies/filmographies and theatrical trailer are here, as is a stills gallery that incorporates various factoids about the production. There is also a set of recently-shot interview segments with Wright covering, among other things, the film’s authenticity in depicting Australian skinheads. Naturally, some of this material is also covered in his commentary, but deeper details are found here. Appearing alongside these segments are interview bites culled from the film’s circa-’92 electronic press kit; featured are Wright, Crowe, McKenzie, and co-star Tony Lee (who plays a Vietnamese club owner). Of course, the main attraction of these is Crowe, looking very youthful and appearing genuinely excited about his work–and the rest of his career.
Specifications: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen; English DTS; English 5.1 Surround; English Dolby Surround; English subtitles; English closed captioning.