September 10, 2023


THE MERGER (Blu-ray)
2018 / 103 min
Review by Tiger the Terrible😺

If you’ve regularly watched ESPN for any discernible length of time, you might have noticed that filling a 24-7 TV schedule with all-things-sports has occasionally yielded some peculiar programming…including things you didn’t even know were real sports.

This was especially true in the network’s early days, when they didn’t have broadcasting rights to most of the biggest sports. It was back then that my dad and I were introduced to Australian Rules Football, or “footy,” as it’s apparently called down-under. We never quite figured out the rules, but as a violent game that looked like it might have been conceived while throwing-back pints of lager, it was certainly fun to watch.

The Merger doesn’t spend much time explaining footy, either. But that’s okay, since director Mark Grentell & screenwriter-star Damian Callinan offer just enough for us to get the gist. And for a sports movie that puts its own cultural spin on the triumph-of-the-underdog story, we don’t need much else besides engaging characters…

…which the film provides plenty of, starting with reclusive wine-maker Troy Carrington (Callinan). He’s a former footy star who isn’t held in high regard by the people of Bodgy Creek because they blame him for the lumber mill closing. A lot of these folks - spearheaded by cantankerous team manager Bull Barlow (John Howard) - also resent the number of refugees who’ve relocated here (derogatorily referred to as ‘refos’).

Ladies Night.
But with the local footy team on the verge of folding due to lack of money and players, Bull’s widowed daughter-in-law, Angie (Kate Mulvany), suggests making Troy the coach. This initially doesn’t go over well at all, especially since Troy’s willing to let refugees on the team, the most skilled player being Sayyid (Fayssal Bazzi), who defected from Syria and is waiting for visas allowing his family to join him.

Filled with interesting characters, likable or otherwise, much of the narrative focuses on the various interactions between them. The most charming of them is probably the developing friendship between Troy and Angie’s brash 10-year-old son, Neil (Raffert Grierson), who lost his father a year earlier and sort-of serves as the film’s narrator (through a documentary he’s making about Troy).

There are a few other affecting side-stories related to the prejudice and tragedies these refugees have endured, the plea for empathy being an obvious theme. But plotwise, you’ve seen The Merger before, adhering to a tried-and-true formula pretty religiously. And that’s okay, because the film is also funny, insightful and ultimately heartwarming. I still don't know much about footy, though.





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