Romper Stomper (1992)

Russell Crowe plays the leader of a gang of skinheads in Australia that strives for racial purity, harassing Asians whenever the opportunity presents itself, but finds itself on the defensive when a group of Vietnamese retaliates. Slowly, the bigots are reduced in number, owing partly to the counteroffensive from the Vietnamese and partly to their own inner turmoil, as an auburn-haired femme from a broken home lends a distracting hand, leading to tragic results.

The movie is a pretty rough look at the inner politics of hate gangs. Crowe and his crew have a single mission – the eradication of all nonwhites. In their neighborhood, more and more businesses are being bought or started by those of Asian descent. Hando (Crowe) is a neo-Nazi disciple; he has a copy of Mein Kampf, from which he takes lessons of leadership and purity, and he has a giant Nazi-swastika tapestry in his bedroom. The skinheads are utterly ruthless – they beat, maim, and kill for their cause.

But when they roust a Vietnamese nouveau hotelier, all hell breaks loose. Relatives of the victim come swarming after the skinheads at their hangout, waging an all-out war that looks far more realistic than the silly rumbles the Jets and the Sharks used to have. Bloodied and perhaps a little bowed, the racist slugs head for cover.

But their headaches are only beginning. Hando isn’t the most sensitive guy, after all, so it’s not long before his new love Gabe (Jacqueline McKenzie) bears the brunt of his tirades. Meanwhile, she starts to have eyes for Hando’s best mate, Davey (Daniel Pollock), who’s a much quieter sort. Meanwhile, she seems even daffier than they are, no small accomplishment; she has more emotional issues than a Park Avenue newstand. But she’s pretty and different (the other women in the group are Goth goddesses, whereas she’s a redheaded vixen, you see, and an epileptic), so the advantage is hers, sort of.

A couple of things make this movie watchable: the fast pacing by director Geoffrey Wright and the nascent acting by Crowe. You can clearly see the greatness that would develop more fully a few years later. Crowe’s Hando is cool under pressure, but ultimately flawed. He’s never shown as weak, though, just morally unyielding. That is, when he shouts at Gabe, he doesn’t turn around in the next scene and take her back, admitting his error. He’s strong willed and misguided, and Crowe perfectly captures all of the character’s nuances, right up to the deadly finish.

Sad note: Pollock, who had a romantic relationship with McKenzie during filming, killed himself shortly after the film was completed.

***

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