Troy Carrington, a former professional football player lives in his home town of Bodgy Creek. He once played footy at the top level. His days as an athlete came to an abrupt end after a severe injury, but it was his political activism that made him one of the town’s least popular citizens. He has never been forgiven for the part he played in getting the local timber mill shut down a few years ago. He is still regularly referred to as “Town Killer”. Despite the negative attitude towards him, Troy is someone who sticks to his guns and remains true to his beliefs.
The Bodgy Creek Football Club, also known as The Roosters, is facing severe financial difficulties. They haven’t won the finals in years and now their clubhouse has to be ripped down owing to the amount of asbestos inside it. Troy has a plan to turn around the club’s fortunes. He wants to use government grants, create a merger with another team and draft members of the local refugee community onto the team. He also wants to coach this new version of The Roosters.
There is opposition to this idea. Some townsfolk aren’t happy with the fact the refugees have been relocated to their area and they certainly don’t want them playing with the Roosters. Others in Bodgy Creek are more in favour, seeing it as a clear way to pay for new club house and give the team a chance of winning the finals – or at least not finish last on the local league ladder. Troy has the support of a few townspeople but is vocally opposed by many more. He get The Roosters to the finals while steering his way through the gauntlet of negative local opinion.
Troy is played by Damian Callinan. He is also the writer and adapted the screenplay from his successful one-man show of the same name. Director Mark Grentell has years of theatre experience and has previously made a comedy feature that also focussed on sport, BACKYARD ASHES (2013). That film, like THE MERGER, was shot in Wagga Wagga. Grentell, who was born and raised in the area, has used the enthusiastic support of the locals to help make his film.
Callinan is solid as the lead, as is Kate Mulvany who plays Angie Barlow. Angie is one of the few in the town who supports Troy from the get-go. She is a widow and the former daughter-in-law of the town’s powerhouse elder Bull Barlow (John Howard). Angie’s son, eleven-year-old Neil (Rafferty Grierson), is documenting Carrington by making a video for a school project. His wry take on Troy is consistently funny. The best of the refugee players is Sayyid (Fayssal Bazzi) a man who already has a strong connection to Australian Rules football that he learnt as an asylum seeker in his time in a detention centre. Bazzi’s performance is both funny and moving. The large supporting cast does good work creating both the team and the sense of a wider community, these include veterans like Penny Cook and newer comedic talents such as Nick Cody. John McConville is a standout playing Snapper, a player who can barely kick or mark a ball.
On one hand, THE MERGER is the type of outback comedy film that Australia has made before. There are strands of older things like Dad and Dave and DIMBOOLA (1979) in there, but beneath the surface, there is a serious attempt to weave in themes of community and acceptance, especially in regard to asylum seekers and refugees. The combination of these elements, the talents of the creative team and the assistance of Grentell’s home town, has created a laid-back Australian comedy with a lot of heart. Running time: 1 hour and 34 minutes. (7.5/10)
Note: Mark Grentell and John Howard interview audio here.