Romper Stomper [1992]

The burning intensity of Russell Crowe (L.A. Confidential) first lit up screens as a hate-filled, Mein Kampf-spouting skinhead in this brutal Australian drama. Crowe glowers from under his deep-set eyes as Hando, the creepy but charismatic leader of a racist gang who declares war on the Asian immigrants pouring into Melbourne. His rage erupts in violent attacks on the local Vietnamese community, but when his victims fight back his gang breaks up, and Hando flees the city with his best buddy Davey (Daniel Pollock) and redheaded hellion Gabe (Jacqueline McKenzie), a rich girl runaway who turns the dynamic duo into a splintered love triangle. Writer-director Geoffrey Wright's matter-of-fact treatment of this subculture eschews social commentary for visceral immediacy. His portrait of white supremacist punks living like squatters on the fringes of Australian society is powered by coiled anger and simmering frustration, which finds its outlet in brutal fights and murderous rampages (the intense violence earned the film an NC-17 rating). The lack of moral position may bother some people, especially in light of Wright's sympathetic treatment of particular members of Hando's racist army, and the cold, hate-driven violence is sometimes hard to watch, but his vivid characters and richly drawn world create a compelling drama for adventurous filmgoers. --Sean Axmaker

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