Loosely based on actual events, Australian Surfing drama Drift depicts the exploits of two brothers Andy and Jimmy Kelly as they try to establish themselves in the early days of the Australian surf industry in the 1970’s.
After fleeing her abusive husband, Kat (Robyn Malcolm) takes her young sons Andy (Myles Pollard) and Jimmy (Xavier Samuel) to Western Australia’s Margaret River region hoping to start afresh. Volatile and prone to trouble the boys still manage to find solace surfing the local beaches. Seeing a future in the burgeoning surfing industry, the boys along with mum and scrawny mate Gus (Aaron Glenane) set up a cottage surf gear business called Drift. Fortuitously, they encounter hairy, itinerant hippy JB (Sam Worthington) who also happens to be a pioneering surf photographer. Accompanying him is a stunning, young Hawaiian woman Lani (Lesley-Ann Brandt) who catches the eye of both Andy and Jimmy. The group seem to have an ideal life but the hippy utopia is soon threatened by financial pressures, police harassment, nefarious local bikies, conflict between the responsible, ambitious Andy and the petty thief Jimmy and the insidious menace of heroin.
This film at first threatens to be a clichéd and cringe worthy celebration of Aussie meat head culture. Fortunately, though, it quickly transforms into an involving, if occasionally soap opera-like, family drama. It’s also a features remarkable surfing sequences with Andy, Jimmy and others tackling massive, bone-splintering waves on WA’s stunning coastline.
Part of the film’s appeal is its nostalgic depiction of the early 1970’s and that unusual confluence of surf culture and freewheeling hippy culture with all its wild and woolly hair and fashion. Drift doesn’t entirely embrace the retro feel as it includes contemporary bands on the soundtrack like the ubiquitous Black Keys which, while sounding great, seem out of place.
A well-judged performance from Myles Pollard sees Andy emerge as a believably flawed hero. He has some reprehensible traits such as his father’s violent streak but Pollard gives him a decency and determination that makes us want to see him succeed. Xavier Samuel as Jimmy isn’t as forceful a screen presence as Pollard and except when rising to the challenge of a surfing competition, seems to fade into the background. He also has odd facial hair that makes him look like one of the Three Musketeers. Robyn Malcolm, as the boys’ long suffering mother, is probably the film’s most emotionally compelling character but she isn’t given the screen time she deserves. She spends far too many scenes seemingly chained to a sewing machine churning out wet suits.
Sam Worthington takes a while to warm to as JB. He looks like he’s just escaped from a production of Hair as he trundles around the country in a rainbow-coloured bus, smoking hash, dressing like the Maharishi and talking quasi spiritual bollocks. Eventually, though, the laid-back Worthington imbues JB with a laconic charm.
As the bikie leader, Steve Bastoni displays some of the leering menace and intimidating confidence we saw in Underbelly and he commands each scene in which he appears. Unfortunately, though, the film keeps him on the periphery only allowing him and his gang to make sporadic appearances. The film also limits the gang’s violence which neuters their overall impact and makes them more like thugs in an Aussie soap opera.
The film has a few script issues, for example, about half way through it seems to forget about the potentially destructive love triangle between Lani, Andy and Steve. The film also has Sam Worthington’s JB popping up to save the day a little too often.
Drift is far from perfect but it’s rarely dull, features some marvellous cinematography and has characters we actually care about. For those reasons it rates several notches above most recent Australian films.
Nick’s rating: Three stars.
Director(s): Ben Nott, Morgan O’Neill
Release date: 2nd May 2013
Running time: 113 mins.