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.