Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Remember the early days of ESPN? Yes my friends, ‘back in the day’ there was no pro baseball, NFL, NBA, NHL or NASCAR on that network. No sir, when ESPN first launched, whenever the hell that was, they had to find a way to fill 24 hours worth of programming a day and there was only so much Sports Center you could get away with. So they showed an awful lot of Australian Rules Football and Canadian League Football. Oh how I remember it well watching those crazy Australian dudes totally decimate each other, gouge each others eyes out and do things to each other that I’m almost certain would be against the law if they did it outside the football field, and still I had, and have no idea what in the world the goal of the game was. It certainly was something to see though. So it warms my heart to see a football movie, ANY football movie in which the ball is oblong and not round, that tells a tale of these Australian lunatics in the very entertaining and bittersweet ‘The Final Winter’.

Matthew Nable is Grub Henderson, a hard nosed tough ass Football Player getting ready to battle against the team that his more talented, but not quite as brutal younger brother Trent (Nathaniel Dean) plays for. For reasons that are never quite laid out, other than the fact that Grub can be an insufferable asshole, he absolutely hates his baby brother. Trent isn’t too terribly fond of Grub either though this seems more the result of somebody hating on your for the majority of your life than any real tangible reason. Grubs Coach (Matthew Johns) warns Grub not to make this personal since the last thing the team needs is its best player to get tossed, and after watching Aussie Rules football I’m thinking you’d almost have to pull a knife on somebody to get thrown out of a game, but nonetheless Grub lets his out of control emotions get the better of him and his team suffers the consequences for his actions.

Grub you see is a mess. He has a beautiful wife (Raelee Hill) who he completely neglects even though she loves his dirty drawers, he has two lovely little girls he also

neglects, he has a team owner (John Jarratt) who has what Grub feels is no respect for the game and is only worried about the bottom line, and Grub is nearing the end of his playing days which fills him with total fear. Grub is also selfish, bullheaded and to quote his little brother, an overall prick. So as Grub’s illegal hit on his brother threatens to derail the remainder of what looks to be his final season, and the owner looking to replace the dinosaur anyway, my man is at a crossroads in his life since he defines himself by Football and cares about little else. As his wife will tell him, the man has some decisions to make as his football career comes to its final act, but when football ends,he will still have the rest of his life to deal with.

Any game that you can play professionally which you can smoke a few cigarettes before it, blast somebody in the nutsuck with your foot during it, and then ritualistically down a few pints until you’re piss stumbling drunk after it is a game I can certainly get with. Seriously though, being a fan of American Football, my game, you will be hard pressed to find a sports movie which shows as much care and respect for THIS game, which chronicles Australian Rules Football in the mid 1980’s, as directors Brian Forest and Jane Andrews have presented to us in ‘The Final Winter’. It certainly eschewed the standard issue of sports movies in that there was no ‘big kick’ at the end of the movie with the clock ticking down to zero to win the ‘big game’ and that was appreciated as this is a film that focused more on character than forced theatrics.

This is not to say that the action on the field is neglected as the actual football scenes are fast and furious, well shot and hard hitting. Some of the freeze frames made these scenes a bit too stylistic for my personal taste, but they were well done nonetheless. However as a character based film it sinks or swims on the strengths of those characters and ‘The Final Winter’ succeeds mightily in that regard. Matthew Nable, who also wrote the script, perfectly captures the essence and frustrations of the fading footballer in Grub and his performance came off as very personal and authentic. I actually got the feeling that Nable and Nathaniel Dean disliked each other in the real world as their animosity towards each also felt very real. Raelee Hill provided a fine performance as Grubs put upon wife in presenting us the struggles she had to go through in an attempt to keep her family together.

The film may be a bit too melodramatic in some instances, considering the toughness of the characters that inhabited this film, but this is certainly a minor criticism as this is one of the better sports films I’ve seen in recent years. ‘The Final Winter’ replaces cliché and last minute heroics with character and heart and we welcome this film for its grand and successful efforts.

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