It's probably a safe bet that “Bra Boys,” the new Australian documentary about the notorious Sydney surfing gang, owes its existence to Rus-sell Crowe, who narrates the film and executive-produced it. Or, if not its existence, at least the distribution that, four months after its release, landed the film at Market Street. Because there ain't much here.
There is, thankfully, some pretty killer surfing footage, mostly courtesy of world-renowned surfer Koby Abberton, who stars in the film. But more than anything, this is a one-sided PR love-fest for the Bra Boys, a surfer community that, over the last decade, has been involved in riots, fights with police and a murder investigation, but whose members are shown in the film to be fun-loving, “Jackass”-style pranksters, wholly undeserving of their bad rap.
So it goes when a filmmaker is also a subject, particularly where there is controversy. Sunny Abberton, a former surf champ and a founding member of the Bra Boys, co-directs and spends most of the film interviewing his brothers, Koby and Jai, another surf champ. Their narrative centers on the Sydney suburb of Maroubra, traditionally home to some of the area's most impoverished citizens. With Australia's largest prison looming on a hill above the community, a military shooting range on one side and the largest sewage treatment plant in the Southern hemi-sphere on another, Maroubrans had only one escape — Maroubra Beach, home to some of Australia's best surfing. Or at least that's how the Abbertons and the Bra Boys (who drew their name from the last syllable of their community) tell it. From public housing and broken homes, kids fled to the beach, and in the Australian tradition of fierce localism in surf communities, they formed the Bra Boys surf tribe.
Early in the film, we get a lot on what it means to be a Bra Boy. You could probably guess. How 'bout brotherhood? Koby, who's almost exclusively interviewed shirtless, has a tattoo that necklaces its way around upper chest that says, “Iammybrotherskeeper.” How 'bout special handshakes? The Bra Boys employ what's billed as the most powerful grip possible, a shake that forfeits the hand for the forearm. Or always being there for another Bra Boy, especially if it involves a fight? It's only when they start talking about the importance of “charging waves hard” that this insular boys' club, gang-lite business gets less tedious. Because if there's one thing the Bra Boys do entertainingly, it's fearlessly tackle scary huge waves.
The hook in “Bra Boys,” the tantalizing bit that's likely to be at the heart of the dramatization that Crowe's rumored to also be handling, is that in 2003, Jai murdered a Syndey underworld figure and later Koby was accused of hindering the investigation into that murder. There might be a story here, but the Abbertons aren't really willing to tell it. All we get is a little background on the murder victim, Anthony Hines, “Hinesy,” who's presented as a shitheel who we're supposed to believe deserved to die. Koby, who's spent the rest of the movie blabbing, sheds no light on what he did or didn't do and Jai refuses to talk about the circumstances surrounding the murder. Any semblance of drama comes courtesy of lots of worried looks and comments from the Bra Boys. Koby, afraid he might not ever again have a chance to surf the hugest waves the world has to offer, goes on a worldwide jaunt while awaiting the verdict. I don't have to tell you that it's hard to summon drama with crazy pipeline wave shots.
Surprise, surprise. They get off. I'm doing you a favor. Skip seeing this one in the theater, and watch it on mute when it comes out on DVD. There are, after all, some tasty waves.