Romper Stomper is actually a fairly new addition to my “absolute favorites” in film. I got interested in this movie when I saw the trailer for it on one of the public computers in college, and after watching it, quickly bought a copy on the internet just because it looked so gritty and uncompromising. As the title says above, it shows you don't need super confusing storylines and multimillion dollar special effects to make a great movie. All you need is believable characters living believable lives and acting out believable situations.
Romper Stomper focuses on a gang of neo-Nazis in Footscray, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. Leading the gang is Hando (Russell Crowe) and his right-hand man is Davey (Daniel Pollock), where they lead brutal street attacks against the growing Vietnamese immigrants in their community, seeking to preserve the “racial integrity” of their community. However, things start to change when a troubled, seizure-prone girl named Gabrielle (Jacqueline McKenzie) comes between Hando and Davey, and their friendship begins to splinter as the love triangle is formed.
This is one of Romper Stomper's best traits since the characters feel very real. Since this movie focuses on a group of neo-Nazis, you see them as vile people, but not in a one-sided way that the politically correct folks in Hollywood would want you to see them as. Even the characters that are there to “push the story along,” don't detriment the quality of the film since their believable personalities add to the quality of the film. Of course, Hando and Davey are the stars in this arena. Hando is the leader of the neo-Nazi gang and to me, is the most menacing neo-Nazi I've ever seen on film. He's really maniacal when in street combat and has a grip over his subordinates as to where they not dare defy him. Within the first several minutes, Hando and his cronies ambush a group of Vietnamese immigrants and Hando grabs one of them, and tells him “I'm gonna tell you something, and I want you to listen to me. This is NOT your country.” Then proceeds to ruthlessly beat the helpless fellow. Hando's appearance adds to his menacing personality since he's covered with Nazi tattoos and on his left arm, has the skeletal structure of his arm tattooed in black ink and it makes him look like he has claws on his hand as well. However, Hando isn't a one-sided maniac. After the first night he spends with Gabrielle, he explains to her why he believes what he believes for pretty understandable reasons, particularly with how the Vietnamese immigrants are “cheap labor,” and renders a chunk of the white populace unemployed (though this doesn't justify his awful actions). Davey is also an interesting character because while he believes in the Nazi ideology, he feels ostracized within Hando's gang and starts to feel that Gabrielle is his key out of that type of life. A good example of Davey's doubts about the gang are shown in a party scene where all of his pals are getting drunk and beating each other while listening to racist punk rock; Davey breaks away from the mosh pit and pummels a punching bag. Gabrielle shows some complexity because while she's a troubled “sex kitten,” she's had a troubled life with her mother's death and implications that her father has sexually abused her in the past. Also, since these people aren't exactly “good people,” I'm glad that there's no quest for these people to redeem their morality because in reality, these people don't conveniently “find the light” towards the end of reality, adding another layer of realism to the experience.
LACK OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS
Writer and director Geoffrey Wright did a bold move by taking a neutral stance to the characters' Nazi ideology. Instead, Wright makes a gritty drama focusing on the decay of a group of violent hooligans who happen to be neo-Nazis. I'm really glad that Wright didn't bash the audience over the head with a “OMG!! Racism is evil!!” message like in American History X because I think most people old enough to watch this type of movie have enough cognitive capacity to make that decision for themselves. Another aspect to the lack of political correctness is that Wright immerses the audience into the neo-Nazis' world, which I find pretty refreshing since not many films did that prior to Romper Stomper's release in 1992 (with an exception being Made in Britain, which came out in 1982), and that it's not common that you get to see why they think the way they do. Partial spoilers ahead, what I love about this movie is that none of the characters break away from their racist beliefs at the end because in real life, hate-filled goons don't quickly change their ideology like in films such as Crash and the previously mentioned American History X.
It's pretty obvious that Romper Stomper is a low-budget film given how it looks. The film was shot with that was probably either a small or standard low quality camera, which causes the picture quality to look pretty grainy and hazy. I LOVE the picture quality in this movie because the visual grittiness adds a layer of uneasiness that's already present within the ultra-violent lives of the neo-Nazis. Since many of the locations take place in abandoned car shops and warehouses, it adds another layer of uneasiness to the viewing experience by showing how rough these troublemakers have to live.
John Clifford White did a fantastic job writing the music for RS because it further immerses the viewer into the neo-Nazis' world. The soundtrack itself is a mixture of racist punk rock and simplistic instrumentals. The racist punk songs do a great job in really making you feel like you're in Hando's gang because not only for their racist messages, but also for the fact that they really sound like music played by a racist band in someone's garage, though I think the instrumentals are the best part of the music. Towards the psychotic end of the movie, there's a really creepy and psychedelic track with only the words “Fourth Reich Fighting Men” (taken from a racist punk song with the same title) being screamed in the background as the madness in the movie unravels. The ending theme “Dead Nazi March” is a simple and dark instrumental tune that perfectly complements the movie.
Romper Stomper isn't by any stretch an action film, but it has probably one of the most intense street fights I've ever seen in a movie. After the Vietnamese immigrants get fed up with the neo-Nazis' ruthless actions, they retaliate. When Hando and his cronies assault the sons of a Vietnamese businessmen who just bought the local bar (which was the skinheads' hangout area), dozens and dozens of Vietnamese people swarm the skinheads and raging battle ensues. You see the skinheads and Vietnamese people stab, punch, and kick the snot out of each other. A really intense part of the fight is when a skinhead downs and proceeds to repeatedly kicking a Vietnamese guy in the belly, two Vietnamese people on a motorbike knock the skinhead down and a bunch of others swarm the skinhead and beat him to death. This makes the sparse street fights in Akira look like shorts from Sesame Street.
This is not a movie for the kids. The previously stated street fights are really violent and this movie has some pretty intense (for not being x-rated) sex scenes between Hando and Gabrielle and later on, between Davey and Gabrielle. However, the violence and sexual content aren't at all gratuitous because they add to the grittiness of the main characters' lives.
Romper Stomper really is an intense film and if you want THE skinhead movie, don't hesitate to watch RS one bit. If you want more after this, check out Made in Britain as well.
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