At the core of David Field’s The Combination Redemption is a performance by Taylor Wiese that is conjured from the guts of hell itself. All muscles and beard, Wiese’s Bryan is a gut churning echo of the violent thugs that made the Cronulla riots the stain on Australian history that it is writ large. Equally terrifying is the effect that Bryan has on his younger brother, Mark (a powerful performance from André de Vanny), who pushes back against the far right leaning diatribe that Bryan spews endlessly.
Encompassing this core is the continued narrative of John (writer-actor George Basha), carrying on from 2009’s The Combination where John’s brother Charlie (Firass Dirani) was killed by a local gang lord. The image of Charlie being shot in the back rings through John’s mind, startling him out of sleep every morning. Life has carried on for John, even though his mother has returned to Lebanon, and his wife has left him, he manages to carry on working at the boxing studio run by Wes (the late Tony Ryan). While Basha’s script suggests that John has mild PTSD, it’s hard to see this in his performance, especially when he manages to successfully woo new beau, Amira (Abbey Aziz).
Meanwhile, Charlie’s high school friend Mo (Rahel Romahn), never managed to escape the life of pushing drugs, and finds himself in deeper, hotter water after trying to rip off the new drug lord in town – Nas (a manic Johnny Nasser) – to the tune of $100,000. This leads Mo on the run from Nas’s henchmen, and ends up adding to the home life issues that Mo faces.
This is the foundation that The Combination Redemption is working on, and it’s not hard to see that it’s fairly similar to the foundation that The Combination had. Namely, one that appears to throw one too many ingredients into the pot in the hope that it makes for a more colourful, layered dish, but instead comes across just a bit too muddled. George Basha’s script is hyper loaded with bold, dot point issues that plague society as a whole – everything from rampant racism and islamophobia, to the troubles facing those in a relationship when they come from different faith –, and while these issues do organically inform one another, they simply aren’t given enough breathing room in a 100 minute film.
While George Basha manages to write engaging characters, unfortunately there are some areas that fall short. The romantic subplot between Amira and John is underdeveloped and, although Basha and Aziz have good chemistry, it ends up feeling hollow. Compared to the first Combination film, Redemption does have better written gangster thugs, even if they do end up with a bizarrely eccentric (but no less enjoyable) performance from Johnny Nasser, but they are still generic stereotypes that come laden with a generic gangster narrative.
What works in The Combination Redemption is that core narrative of Taylor Wiese’s Bryan and his company of alt-right maniacs. Ripped from the headlines, the correlation between Bryan and walking dumpster fire Blair Cottrell is undeniable. Basha goes so far as to saddle Bryan with his own Fraser Anning figure, a politician (Jeremy Waters – great in a small role) who wants to change the face of Australia, who does so by enlisting the help of radical white extremists, yet, unlike Anning, this one is less than keen to be associated with such violent extremism, instead hoping to change the face of Australia via the mechanics of politics. After the pollie abandons him, Bryan’s actions turn even more violent and aggressive, with his eagerness to enact some horrific ‘ethnic cleansing’ on the suburbs of Sydney.
Taylor Wiese commits completely to his role that it becomes nauseating to see his mania on screen. There’s a distinct level of realism here that is unavoidable, one that reminds us that in the ten years since the first Combination film, there has been few changes in society. In fact, things have gotten much, much worse. Wiese’s Bryan towers over his brother, Mark, and it’s André de Vanny’s performance that reminds us that when presented with evil, it’s not so easy to put it in its place. de Vanny’s Mark is a strong character, yet, the fear of hate that permeates from his brother is intoxicating.
Another area that Basha proves to have great chemistry is the bond that he and Tony Ryan have with one another. The care that Ryan’s Wes has for John is clear, so much so that this relationship alone would be great for a standalone narrative – two down on their luck guys running a boxing gym together and trying to make it work. When a non-consensual violent altercation occurs in the club, Wes is quick to point out that that kind of culture doesn’t have a place in this world – especially in front of kids. It’s a shame that this is Tony Ryan’s last performance, as he really is a wonderful performer here.
The three main narrative threads don’t exactly mesh well enough to be completely coherent. Just like the first Combination film, I wish that the gangster narrative was excised completely as instead of adding tension to the plot, it merely adds a rote thread that lacks any of the urgency it thinks it has.
David Field’s direction is solid. While The Combination had a few ‘first feature’ quibbles, The Combination Redemption shows that Field has come a long way since that first film. There’s a vibe that Field is really pushing his creative voice into new areas here, which in turn makes Redemption a more vibrant, energetic film that the first entry. Hopefully it’s not too long before he’s back behind the camera again.
While The Combination Redemption is much of the same as the first film, it’s also a more polished film. Thematically relevant, and at times, exceptionally frightening, this is a film that is difficult to watch at times, yet, it’s a necessary tale to be told. If there is a third Combination film, one can only hope that it comes out in a time where it’s not as relevant as the first two films.
Director: David Field
Cast: George Basha, Abbey Aziz, Taylor Wiese
Writer: George Basha