THE CASTLE, 1997
Directed by Rob Sitch
Starring: Michael Caton, Anne Tenney, Stephen Curry, Anthony Simcoe, Eric Bana
Review by Jay Radosavljevic
The Kerrigan family live happily beside an airport, beneath a pylon. They are a close family with strong morals and traditions. A man from the local council comes by to do a routine valuation of the property which father, Darryl thinks is great. Little does he know that the council are preparing to kick the Kerrigans out of their home to expand the airport. Darryl goes on a crusade to stop the council and protect his family home.
A low-budget underground cult hit from Austrailia, ‘The Castle’ will go down (under) in history as one of the funniest films ever made but still suffers from under-exposure and is eclipsed in popularity by any number of the traditional (yet wholly inferior) American follies into comedy.
‘The Castle’ is the Kerrigans’ family home – it is right next door to the airport (which would be handy if the family ever needed to fly anywhere) in a small and scarcely populated cul-de-sac, High View Crescent. Their neighbours comprise a female divorcee, a poor old man and a Lebanese immigrant who prefers the planes that fly overhead here than the ones that drop bombs back home.
The Kerrigans are the happiest and sweetest family you would ever have the pleasure of meeting: the father, Daryl (a tow truck driver) has principles and just loves his wife’s cooking – the mother, Sal is devoted to her family and to prettying up the house with her own unique tastes – the youngest son, Dale is lovely but dim (he can dig a good hole though) and narrates the story – the middle son, Steve is an ideas man with a keen eye for a bargain in the trading post – the oldest son, Wayne is in prison for his part in a robbery but it wasn’t his fault … he fell in with the wrong crowd – the daughter, Tracey is the only member of the family with a tertiary education (beauty school) and was once on ‘The Price Is Right’. Tracey is engaged to Con (played by a young Eric Bana) who is an immaculately dressed and overly polite keen amateur kick-boxer.
All the family members have ridiculously bad haircuts (mullets for the boys and a frizzy bouffant adorns the heads of the girls) – their sweaters are amazing too. Check them out!
Now, something terrible happens to disrupt the family bliss and the harmony of the whole neighbourhood. The airport wants to expand and build another runway – the Airport Authority are too cheap to fill in the old quarry and build there so decide to compulsorily acquire all the houses in High View Crescent to build there instead. Darryl is incensed into action – after all, its not a house, it’s a home and a man’s home is his castle.
The film follows Darryl’s attempts to have the compulsory acquisition order overruled by the courts. He hires a big-shot (how do you write with sarcasm?) lawyer (the same one that represented Wayne in his trial for the robbery) and they hit the legal trail of the Airport Authority’s dastardly desires.
It feels and acts like a true story: compulsory acquisition really does displace people against their wishes. It is all the more poignant when you consider the film’s location, Australia where the Aboriginal first nation people were displaced by the ruling authorities from the moment the country was discovered. Darryl even says he now knows how the Aborigines feel – their home is like their ancestral land – it holds their memories and no one deserves to have that taken away from them.
It may seem like a dull plot with not much funny going on at all for a comedy (how do you find ground breaking laughs in a court-room drama?) but this film truly has it all: tension, twists, turns, great one-liners, hair-raising hair cuts, floundering fashions, memorable catch-phrases, horrific hair cuts, a tightly refined all-round quotable script … and did I mention the hair?!
You really have to watch ‘The Castle’ three, maybe four times before you fully see and understand the many layers of the comedy. On your first view you will laugh at all the obvious stuff and miss other obvious comedy simply because you are laughing too much to catch the next gag. The second viewing will remedy this. On your third and fourth viewings you will really start to notice the detail and minutiae of the comedy: you will take in all the elements of the set dressing, the wardrobe department, the hair and make-up – all important cogs in the machine that when put together create one of the most intelligent combinations of comedic essentials ever seen on the silver screen.
This is a big statement to make but believe me, when you are up to your twentieth viewing (or even thirtieth, like me) you will be a staunch advocate of this film too. It never gets boring, it never gets tired and it will never get old.