Review: Around the Block

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Around the Block is an Aussie Dangerous Minds with a smarter tack on the racial divide. Then again, maybe it looks that way because it’s easier to see racism when it’s happening in other cultures. American’s don’t call Aboriginals “black.” That is, however, what they’re called in Australia, which didn’t experience the Maori Protest movement New Zealand did in the 70s, so the conscious division between the middle and upper class whites and the ghettoized aboriginals is somewhat concrete. Or that’s how Around the Block posits the divide. The film, by Sarah Spillane, knits a clear and tidy web uniting the concerns that contribute to cycles of poverty and crime in underprivileged communities.

Liam Wood (newcomer Hunter Page-Lochard) has a father (Matthew Nable) in jail and an inspiring dedication to his family. His mother (Ursula Yovich) is struggling to find work and his brother (Mark Coles Smith) grasps his stake in “the block” and knows how to work it. When Dino (Christina Ricci) gets a job teaching drama in Liam’s high school she looks like too big a wreck to create any good in the place—particularly as the head master knows the school is about to close its doors. But Dino thinks the kids want to launch a production of Hamlet and also thinks the community will come out to see it, so while some dismiss her as a white idealist, Shakespeare’s revenge tragedy plays out in Liam’s home life, challenging his ability to play Hamlet onstage. The whole thing would be laughable if it didn’t happen with such looseness—it’s totally possible Dino is saving the day and she’s done it with no plan just “wow! The school might not close now!”

While I enjoyed the film in parts I also worry Spillane knows as much about the culture she’s depicting as I do about Maori civil rights. I don’t say this because it’s occasionally portentous and overdramatic (forgive that: it’s about teenagers) I say it because Around the Block romanticizes liberally and since the film packs it in (even featuring walkabout) the fever pitch dramatics start to feel like outsider reverence for another people; as if Spillane has given us a decent survey of “the block” and can travelogue the best parts for us. That’s no great crime, though it is at least as awkward as Christina Ricci’s performance (bummer). The Block, it should be said, is a vibrant place full of really great music and the only danger comes from the white cops. There’s no huffing or drug culture shown—this is a G rated Ghetto—and the thing that launches young men into trouble is their loyalty to family and culture, suggesting that birthright is mightier than any white man’s law and that idea is as impressive as it is old. The nobility of these circumstances is impossible to overlook, and I don’t think an absence of the nobility would make the story feel more truthful, but it would feel less like a left wing tone poem.

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