Running Time 90 minutes
Written and Directed by Sunny Abberton
Starring Russell Crowe
Sunny Abberton’s Bra Boys (no connection to the female undergarment), written, directed and produced by Mr. Abberton and narrated by Russell Crowe and the three Abberton brothers, Sunny, Koby and Jai, introduces us to the violent world of surfing gangs in and around the inner Sydney beach-side suburbs of Maroubra. The film includes stunning footage of high-wave surfing not only in Australia but also in Hawaii and Tahiti, the Pacific coasts of which produce some of the most awesome waves on the planet. And wherever there is a camera, there is a surfer, often from the Abberton family.
Mr. Crowe’s gruffly growly narration takes us back to the cruelties of Captain Cook and his British imperial successors. The earliest of the oppressed were the genocidally afflicted Aborigines, and then the British convicts who made Australia a penal colony. Amid this cauldron of class-driven, ethnic-driven and racially driven conflicts, the Abberton brothers become charter members of a beach gang called the Bra Boys.
We are shown the newsreels of riots involving the Bra Boys, other neighborhood gangs and an always hostile police force. One of the Abberton brothers was charged with the murder of a Sydney “standover man”: a shakedown artist or extortionist, to translate from the Australian. Another Abberton brother was charged as an accessory after the fact to the murder for not cooperating with the police investigation. Both brothers were apparently acquitted, though I am not sure what ultimately happened.
In a way, the spectacular surfing footage tends to wash away the toxicity of the lower-class environment in which the Abberton brothers and their beloved “Ma” found their salvation and their redemption. For its fusion of social history and sensational athleticism, Bra Boys shapes up as one of the best nonfiction films of the year thus far, and is eminently worth seeing. Even for people who don’t get excited by the idea of surfing, the spectacle of surfing is something else entirely.