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What causes an everyday guy to become a raging, violent bigot? The Australian indie Drown attempts to shed some light on hate crimes by deconstructing one such (fictional) incident, delving into the mind of a flinty, psychotically damaged young man who suddenly snapped one fateful night. Oh, and because it takes place in an all-male lifeguard school, you get a lot of shots of hunky guys in tiny speedos. Dean Francis' beefcake-in-trouble opus arrives from Strand Releasing in a nice-looking DVD - if the drama doesn't always score, at least the sumptuous photography looks good.
Despite the flaws (and there are many), Drown is a good vehicle for up-and-coming Australian actor Matt Levett. Levett radiates intensity as lead character Len Smithy, a cocky lifeguard whose seething, self-loathing homophobia brings about tragic results. Many took notice of the handsome actor as a charming schemer in the Aussie TV drama A Place to Call Home. Playing a completely different type in Drown, Levett has an edgy yet vulnerable quality that calls to mind Tom Hardy (and he does deserve to be every bit as big as Hardy). Levett's Len is a despicable character, yet the film makes it clear that Len's ugliness as a human being is a product of circumstance. He's a hotshot lifeguard (yeah, I know) who becomes enraged when another, younger, fitter, sexier lifeguard arrives and steals his thunder. Ultra-cheesy as that premise sounds, Levett has the ability to make it raw and real.
Drown flashes back and forth to different points in one particular night, a celebration turned brutal hazing in which Len and his longtime pal, Meat (Harry Cook), take their fellow lifeguard, Phil (Jack Matthews), out for a night on the town in Sydney's gay district. Phil is a level-headed, handsome fellow and a fine athlete who earned a trophy for winning the annual lifeguarding race. As the race was held by the lifeguard school long presided over by Len's hard-nosed father (Anthony Phelan), the outing is part of Len's efforts to take revenge on this newcomer. Phil is also gay, in a relationship with a dark-haired hunk (Sam Anderson), but he's forced to hide his identity at the testosterone-soaked training facility. With the help of his buddy/doormat Meat, Len goes on a mission to loosen up Phil on a drunken, druggy jaunt in a gay club. After that, Len and Meat humiliate Phil at a local beach by beating him up, stripping off his clothes, and burying him in the sand. In the process, Len unleashes his own inner demons, including visions of a suicidal woman (Maya Stange) whom Len tried to save before she swam out into the ocean, determined to die.
Adapted from a stage play taking place on a single set, Drown counts as another film that strives to flesh out source material too insubstantial to support a full-length feature. Dean Francis does a fair job of opening up the action to various diverse places and delving into Len's psyche - but for what? Levett, Cook and Matthews have good grasps on their characters, but the story suffers from being wispy and implausible. We know that Len is a secretly gay, self-hating jerk, but why would homophobia exist at an Australian lifeguard training school - in the year 2015? Why is Len's pal Meat a servile little idiot? And where was Phil's boyfriend when all this was going down? A few completely random scenes, such as Phil and his lover attempting to book a room at a snooty B&B, get thrown in. The final product is something beautifully made for a low-budget affair (at times looking like a commercial), although it's in service of a disjointed and surprisingly dull movie.
Dean Francis uses a lot of slick techniques to propel Drown's slight story, shifting the narrative around and framing certain scenes as if they emanated from the characters' inner thoughts. All that effort comes across as a pastiche, however, shallowly referencing earlier, better films like Memento and Trainspotting. It may be worth a peek for those who enjoy prettily photographed movies about sexy guys confronting each others' relative hotness; others will be let down.
Strand Releasing's DVD edition of Drown supplies this digitally photographed film with a gorgeous looking transfer in 16:9 widescreen. The colors practically pop off the screen, well-saturated but not overly fake-looking. Dark levels are kept rich and substantial without being too filled with murk, while many other scenes have a true-to-life appeal with warm skin tones and tactile detail. Despite the movie's flaws, it's a pretty-looking effort done well by this DVD.
The movie's English-language soundtrack is furnished with a good, atmospheric 5.1 Surround mix. The track sports some clear, wide dynamics, with a nice bottom end (strange to say that on a gay-oriented film). The pristine dialogue track is kept in the center channel, with music and effects adding some spacial impact. Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided.
The main extra on this release is a 40-minute Behind the Scenes Featurette with writer-director Dean Francis and the lead actors chatting about the challenges of making this physically demanding film. In addition to the Theatrical Trailer, previews for other, similar Strand Releasing products are included.
An intense drama about the costs of internalized homophobia and a brazen hunk of semi-porn with sexy actors romping around in skimpy swimwear - Drown tries to have it both ways. The end result makes for a surprisingly boring film, although it does sport a good performance from Australian actor Matt Levett (who deserves to be in less forgettable stuff than this). Rent It.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and jack-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. Since 2000, he has been blogging at Scrubbles.net. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's experienced are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.