Despite exploring a different subject matter, actor and comedian Damian Callinan could easily be Australia’s answer to Chazz Palminteri, who similarly brought his successful and critically acclaimed one-man show, A Bronx Tale, to the big screen. With director Mark Grentell (Backyard Ashes) at the helm, The Merger, based on Callinan’s 2010 stage show, officially hit’s cinema across the country tomorrow, September 6th, through Umbrella Films.
After an abrupt end to a promising AFL career, Troy Carrington returns to his home town of Bodgy Creek where he is persuaded to coach its declining football club. In an effort to keep the sporting viable, he recruits a number of local refugees. Combining the nation’s favourite game with the ongoing and controversial issue of immigration is quite stroke the of genius on Callinan’s part. Using the equalizing quality of Aussie rules football as a means to entice acceptance of refugees among weary locals is an effective one, cleverly addressing the issue of racism that still plagues many rural communities. The Merger is also a traditional comedy in many respects, with colourful characters, small town charm and a classic underdog story. Damian Callinan appears very comfortable in the lead role of Troy, an environmentally conscious individual who hopes to break down the social barriers that divide his town. Supporting players bring a fun and often light-hearted dynamic while not taking away from the film’s message; such as Kate Mulvany as the no-nonsense Kate Barlow, screen veteran John Howard as her stubborn father Bull Barlow and rising star Fayssal Bazzi as the enthusiastic Sayyid, a Lebanese refugee desperate to reunite with his family. Much like his character of D-Mac in Abe Forsythe’s Down Under, Bazzi is a real stand-put and in my opinion gives the best and sincerest performance in the film.
The Merger is a relevant and socially aware comedy that will no doubt serve Australian cinema well. Offering wide appeal to audiences, I can already see it finding a place alongside our most enduring classics!
(2018, dir: Mark Grentell)