AUSTRALIAN RULES tells the story of sixteen-year-old Gary Black: average football player, budding wordsmith and reluctant hero. Gary helps his local Australian rules football team win the championship by accident, falls in love with a beautiful Aboriginal girl from the Mission, and becomes tangled in a terrible conflict with the people of his small, coastal town.
A story of unexpected love and the bravery of one young man in a town ready to explode.
In Prospect Flat, a small South Australian town by the sea, they take their footy seriously. Gary Black, called Blackie of course, and played by Nathan Phillips, is on the team, and so is his aboriginal mate, Dumby Red (Luke Carroll), the star player. Dumby and his family live outside town, in the Mission Settlement, and the locals don't encourage them to mix. Blackie's father, Bob (Simon Westaway) is unashamedly racist, but Blackie is drawn to Clarence (Lisa Flanagan), Dumby's sister. Blackie's got problems at home too. He's caught in a squeeze everywhere he turns.
Australian Rules is based on the novel, Deadly, Unna?, by Phillip Gwynne, who wrote the screenplay in collaboration with director Paul Goldman. It's a story you feel is told from the heart, an insider's view of the racism and intolerance that, to our shame, lingers on in some communities, pitting Australian against Australian. The film starts a bit awkwardly, and despite a good performance from Kevin Harrington as the coach, the football scenes are dull; there's also a tentativeness in capturing the small-town atmosphere. But, once the plot kicks in, the film impresses, and a funeral sequence towards the end is tremendously moving. Some of the performances are a bit over-pitched, while others, including the three young leads, are spot on. In the end, this is a strong plea for tolerance and reconciliation.