The Combination Redemption
George Basha, Abbey Aziz, Tony Ryan, Rahel Romahn
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…a deeply human film that nevertheless has no problem whatsoever getting right up in your face.
Back in 2009, The Combination came hard out of the blocks, painting a grim but highly energised picture of the tough day-to-day lives of teenage Lebanese-Australians. Written by first-timer, George Basha, and directed by veteran character actor, David Field, the film bounced and jumped with a rare sense of authenticity, and showed a side of Australia never before seen on film. It kick-started a major controversy when the strongly performing film was absurdly yanked from cinemas during its first days due to a minor incident of audience violence, effectively cruelling its chances of leaping into breakout success territory.
The Combination closed out with the tragic death of its deeply conflicted adolescent leading character, Charlie (Firass Dirani in his wonderful star-making turn), at the hands of a ruthless drug dealer. In this surprise sequel, the original film’s supporting character of John (George Basha) – Charlie’s brother, a hardman now on the straight and narrow – is pushed into centre stage, giving The Combination Redemption a much different feel. John is a figure in constant crisis: he’s ripped apart by guilt over his brother’s death; he’s an Arabic Christian dating the Muslim Amira (Abbey Aziz); he’s on the wrong side of a crew of bumbling but still dangerous White Pride lunatics; and the appearance of Charlie’s friend, Mo (Rahel Romahn), has put him in the crosshairs of a flamboyant criminal (Johnny Nasser). Beset by trouble on every side, John desperately tries to keep a calm head, but even a decent man has a breaking point.
Whereas The Combination threatened to constantly boil over, The Combination Redemption sizzles away at a dangerous temperature from beginning to end. But that feels wholly right: the film is wired in to the horrors at the heart of the nation. Though recalling Romper Stomper with its frightening visions of white-is-right machismo, the film is equally powerful in its depiction of racism amongst minorities, as John is spurned by Amira’s family solely because of his religion. The Combination Redemption highlights the ugly fact that bigotry and xenophobia exist everywhere, even though we might not like to admit it; it’s a sad message powerfully told. But this is no soapbox piece – like Two Hands or The Hard Word, The Combination Redemption is also a top-tier crime movie, boasting gunplay, chase sequences, a volatile sense of threat, fist fights, and tightly choreographed moments of mayhem.
Boasting strong performances (Basha is superb, while the wonderful Geoff Morell slyly steals all of his scenes as a decidedly odd mobster’s henchman), salty, off-the-streets dialogue (Fs and Cs abound), a richly evoked sense of place (its depiction of Sydney’s south-west and its dead-end boys doomed to short lives of violence and hopelessness is heartbreaking), and a from-the-gut dispatch about what’s going wrong in this country, The Combination Redemption is a deeply human film that nevertheless has no problem whatsoever getting right up in your face.