Romper Stomper kicked my ass. My apologies for the crassness, but there’s simply no other way to put it. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been expecting a minor emotional flogging – any film about the skinhead subculture is bound to be brutal and intense and unrelenting and all-up-in-the-audience’s-face – but there were times when I just had to put the movie on pause and take a break. I’m not saying it’s a bad film – from a technical stand point, it’s well-crafted. There’s some interesting cinematography and Daniel Pollock’s nuanced performance in juxtaposition to Russell Crowe’s psychotic one, is excellent. It borrows heavily from A Clockwork Orange, and that’s never a bad thing. The emotionally compromising elements instead are derived from the simple fact that, in a film about Neo-Nazis, it’s difficult to clearly identify the antagonist.
The plot revolves around several skinheads who suddenly find themselves on the defensive after a group of Vietnamese men seek revenge for the brutal beating of their fellow countrymen. The tightly-knit gang plans their retaliation, but the group dynamic is threatened when one of the Nazis falls in love with a beautiful, seizure-prone drifter.
When going to see a movie with Nazis in it, original or otherwise, it’s generally apparent who the bad guys are going to be. They are the quintessential villains, the embodiment of evil; it’s easy to direct all one’s hatred towards them and their fictional representations. Romper Stomper doesn’t take sides in the racewar between the Vietnamese and the skinheads, and, at times, even attempts to evoke sympathy for some of the characters. It’s shocking. The film does not, at least, glorify the lifestyle. These men are uncouth, violent and uneducated squatters whose soul purpose is the preservation of racial purity. It’s hard though, to feel compassion for someone who, forty-five minutes ago, was committing hate crimes. Yet this is exactly what Romper Stomper asks the viewer to do. As the movie progresses and the love interest is introduced, Davey, who eventually leaves the group altogether in order to pursue a relationship, begins to fall for her. Suddenly, the movie has a hero, someone to root for. The change is not believable…a sensitive skinhead is still a skinhead.
The Vietnamese are not portrayed favorably, either. It’s true that they’re initially reluctant to retaliate; no action is taken after the first vicious attack against them. It’s not until the second attack that they are forced to respond, and what a terrifying response it is. As the Vietnamese citizens descend upon the warehouse in which the Neo-Nazis are residing, Romper Stomper becomes less like a drama and more like a horror movie. The assailants claw and at the doors and siding of the building like a hoard of hungry, mindless zombies. They become animals (the director even mixes in some animal roars here, as well as in other violent scenes), consumed by rage and driven only by the desire to do harm. To be fair, they were unjustly provoked into such a state, but the total transformation, and the vast number of attackers (which is indicative of just how strong the foreign population has grown), seems to almost verify the Nazis’ concerns.
I’m not trying to accuse anyone involved in the making of Romper Stomper of being a racist. There’s a very clear message here that violence fuels only more violence. However, in not taking a definite stand against such a hot-button and important topic as racism, the film becomes a little hard to swallow.
Sonny Jim: We came to wreck everything and ruin your life. God sent us.
Recommended Films: American History X, A Clockwork Orange