The Straits

By David Knox on January 19, 2012 / Filed Under Programming, Reviews 30

In case you hadn’t realised, they’re all just a little bit troppo in FNQ.

In the case of The Straits, they’re pretty bent too. At least they are in the Montebello family, a clan of drug runners based in Cairns.

Harry Montebello (Brian Cox) heads up a small empire of crime carried out by his oddball collection of sons Noel (Aaron Fa’Aoso), Marou (Jimi Bani) and Gary (Firass Dirani). With several ethnic cultures already represented here this is curious casting. But The Straits is that kind of show, and logic becomes apparent later.

Harry is married to Kitty (Rena Owen) and has a daughter Sissi (Suzannah Bayes-Morton) who works the more ‘respectable’ job as family business manager alongside accountant, family friend Paddy (Kim Gyngell).

The Montebellos are a family of black sheep, a clan of opposites who don’t look like they should be in the same room together, let alone be related.

Harry is looking to retire and pass on the running of the family business to one of his sons.

“I was hoping one of you boys would be vaguely useful,” he says. “But what have I got? I’ve got one who can’t keep his nose out of his own product. I got one who can’t keep a civil tongue in his head and one who wants to be a choir boy.

“You want it. You earn it.”

And so begins the story-arc of this 10 part series from Matchbox Pictures (The Slap, My Place).

The extended family also includes two wives, the most prominent of which is Noel’s wife Antoinette (Kate Jenkinson). But Noel is separated from Antoinette and his two kids. He may harbour ambitions for a successful family and business lifestyle, but so far he isn’t measuring up.

In the premiere there’s a hefty dose of crimes: drug importation by boat across the Torres Straits from PNG, drug manufacturing, assault, assault with a deadly weapon, use of firearms, kidnapping, embezzlement and even murder (and what a novel death scene it is!).

These characters should be entirely unlikeable. They are, after all, violent crooks with no sign of redemption (yet).

Yet there is an empathy cleverly created by the boys’ inability to rise to the ambitions of their father. However flawed they are, there is also devotion to the family unit.

While this is an ensemble piece, Aaron Fa’aoso is the centre of The Straits universe. As a failed father Noel knows he has to prove himself to win the top job that he rightfully believes is his.

Harry is given offbeat scenes that balance his darker qualities -such as wanting a set of steps for his chihuahua to climb up onto his king size bed.

UK actor Cox revels in his role as the family patriarch, barking his orders, loving women a litle more than he should, and wielding power over local bikie gangs. He makes much of scenes that would be lesser in the hands of others.

Firass Dirani adopts an action role in the second hour of the two-hour premiere, and becomes embroiled in a subplot that serves as a comedy of errors.

The backdrop to The Straits is glorious. There are spectacular aerial scenes of aqua-marine reefs, palm-tree beaches and islands. But beware …..paradise is also inhabited by stingrays, jellyfish and crocs. And not all of them live in the ocean.

If it weren’t for the local crime and dangerous wildlife this could serve as a great tourism drawcard. SeaChange it isn’t.

Produced by Penny Chapman and Helen Panckhurst and directed by Peter Andrikidis, The Straits is Underbelly with too much sun. These are dark characters in tropical shirts, strutting around FNQ full of bravado.

Mention should be made of actor Aaron Fa’aoso for conceiving the story with playwright Louis Nowra. He is following the lead of a handful of other actors who are developing work for the screen.

As the first local drama from the ABC for 2012 this should rightfully be playing on Sunday nights in a showcase timeslot. Notwithstanding its curious weeknight scheduling, The Straits offers a solid start for those who like a mix of offbeat, character-driven stories.

And beware of locals who bite.

The Straits 2 hr premiere 8:30pm Thursday February 2nd ABC1.

30 Comments »

  1. andrew February 5, 2012 at 9:50 am -

    Australian attempt at HBO drama – You’ve got to be joking.
    The writing is poor. The direction is bland and the acting is appalling. The blame IMO should rest with the producers who have little regard for the culture and community they are exploiting for their own egos and bank accounts. Of all the storys TSI and PNG can offer up the producers choose this?

    Please ABC nurture Torres Strait Producers to let them tell their own storys. Not more ‘missionaries’ on their own ego trip.

    PS Missionary attitude extends to the reviewers of TV programs. Just because it has indigenous faces on the screen, judge it for what it really is, not some political agenda.

  2. OzJ February 3, 2012 at 6:45 pm -

    Oh dear. It looks like they spent some money. Great locations (the main reason for watching, as it turns out). Interesting social setting (PNG + Far North Qld). Story with potential. But what a mess. Tonally, it’s all over the place, with the comedy constantly under-cutting the drama. And, with the exception of Brian Cox, the cast is not what you’d call top drawer. Or even second-rate. I stuck with the first instalment largely to enjoy the exotic locations. But I don’t know that I can be bothered tuning in again.

  3. Mymoena February 3, 2012 at 1:01 pm -

    I have watched the premier of The Straits it is definately a Winner!!
    I was was glued to my seat .. I love the exotic location where it was shot, the script and all the actors .. A show like this is long overdue.. Importantly, there is no doubt in my mind that as the characters build (especially that of Sissi- Suzannah Bayes Morton) with future episodes that the Best is yet to come..Well done!!

  4. MillerT1 February 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm -

    The 3 minute trailer is very good. I’ll be watching.

  5. Mymoena February 1, 2012 at 8:42 am -

    I have seen the Trailer and will definately be watching the premiere .. Importantly,
    Alex; you stated “Does the family have a mix of cultures or are they trying to pass of actors from different ethnicities as islanders” They are Actors cast because of their talent and skill..
    Kindly, Please see that you tune in on Thursday 2 February 8.30pm ABC1-

  6. stevieg January 20, 2012 at 11:08 pm -

    Thursday seems a good slot really. Considering that was where the Slap played out succesfully. Sunday’s more for period shows on the abc. Why do the characters have an Italian name, but not one of them is played by an Italian actor? That kind of casting really irritates me.

  7. Napdav January 20, 2012 at 6:43 pm -

    …sounds like several UK and US ‘family crime’ shows rolled into one – but not as well shot.

    Seen it all before – but hey, that’s OZ TV for ya!

  8. Jennome January 20, 2012 at 2:48 pm -

    What’s wrong with Thursday nights? Seeing as how TEN are running Homeland on Sundays, why risk running this up against it?

    Now that’s Rush has bitten the dust on Thursdays, this will replace it just nicely, thank you.

  9. ziggy January 20, 2012 at 1:59 pm -

    I agree with others. Seems funny to dismiss a show because of its marketing department/poster. Think I’ll wait til I see it before I slag it off. The plot sounds a bit more like King Lear than whatever Justified is.

  10. Rocko January 20, 2012 at 9:41 am -

    There are trailers on YouTube. Just search for The Straits Trailer – youtube.com/watch?v=o0Uh_16m6cI

    @Airbrushed – How sad it is that you judge something on one pictures photoshop quality.

  11. Brekkie January 20, 2012 at 8:54 am -

    The extended trailer on Youtube makes it look like a movie, the title sequences are very HBO – yet somehow ABC make it look like a dodgy soap in their promos.

  12. A. January 20, 2012 at 1:44 am -

    I hope they are planning to put Phryne Fisher on Sunday as I’ll watch it. Although please not against Sherlock and Downton Abbey.

  13. Trix January 19, 2012 at 11:27 pm -

    Thank you, Sydney2K! It frustrates me a bit that viewers are so willing to throw sh*t at something before they’ve even seen the program! I have to bite my tongue sometimes but I can tell you, having seen several episodes, that this is a quality drama.

  14. Sydney2K January 19, 2012 at 8:38 pm -

    Last year there was a lot of people who pooh poohed Paper Giants, Laid, Crownies, Angry Boys and The Slap before they were broadcast. While not all of them were unqualified successes, none of them were failures, and they all had their supporters. What is true is you don’t hear much from those people anymore.

  15. Airbrushed January 19, 2012 at 5:16 pm -

    @Justin The Photoshopping makes it look like a B grade comedy.

  16. Billy C January 19, 2012 at 5:14 pm -

    Looking forward to seeing that image on the photoshop disasters website. Looks like the cover for a straight to DVD Adam Sandler comedy. A gun underwater?

  17. Justin January 19, 2012 at 4:16 pm -

    Also this kinda feels like they have taken the Bennet family story arc from Justified’s second season and set it in NQ.

  18. Justin January 19, 2012 at 2:24 pm -

    Why are so many shows being advertised with people standing in photoshopped water?

  19. Toby January 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm -

    The trailer makes it look very cheap and cliched, but after David’s review I’ll check it out. There was an extended trailer at the cinema and people were laughing rather unkindly at the it…

  20. Jack January 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm -

    Looks great am really looking forward to this one esspecially filmed in carins. Makes a change from tyhe usual suburban Melbs or Sydney. Not that there’s anything wrong with those places, its just nice to see a different part of Australia on TV,

  21. Mason January 19, 2012 at 11:40 am -

    Can’t wait. I reckon one it will be one of 2012 highlights. Hopefully one of a few.

  22. aussietv January 19, 2012 at 11:07 am -

    Going by the promo, I’m afraid this looks rather cheap.

  23. Alex January 19, 2012 at 10:29 am -

    It does look like an interesting show. I will watch because the promos look good. Maybe what Tricky Business wishes it was. Does this family have a mix of cultures or are they trying to pass of actors from different ethnicities as islanders?

  24. Trix January 19, 2012 at 9:47 am -

    Great review, David. Looking forward to this. I’m assuming Sunday night is being kept for Phryne Fisher which will suit it very nicely, and it’ll be interesting to see if the ABC can make Thursday nights theirs this year. At least they’re being consistent!

  25. JB January 19, 2012 at 9:39 am -

    @Matt, huh?? How was that funny? I’m sure David’s seen it, he prob gets the first ep to watch to review. But i haven’t seen any previews or a trailer, not even on ABC website. Is there any?

  26. David Knox January 19, 2012 at 9:20 am -

    Wrong.

  27. Matt January 19, 2012 at 9:19 am -

    @JB

    That’s unintentionally hilarious. Yes, this ‘review’ reeks of PR and doesn’t seem like Dave’s watched the show.

  28. JB January 19, 2012 at 8:24 am -

    Sounds good. I’ll be watching. Haven’t seen any previews though, are there any available?

  29. Ronnie January 19, 2012 at 8:22 am -

    I agree this curious programming as is sounds like it’s strong enough for Sunday night. The promos for Phyrne Fisher look pretty silly so I would understand putting that on Thursdays, but not this. Come on ABC have the guts to commission and programme drama for Sunday night!

  30. Nik C January 19, 2012 at 8:09 am -

    Well the review makes it intriguing. As for a Thursday night slot, you have to hope they have bigger plans for Sunday.
    I think 2012 is the year ABC should challenege the Commercial networks even further and back their Aussie dramas and quality shows with challenging timeslots.

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