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STUDIO: Entertainment One
RUNNING TIME: 1,755 minutes
• Behind the Scenes
• Carl Williams: Day of Reckoning
An addictive, pulpy, and hugely entertaining true-crime chronicle of sex and violence from Australia.
Directed by Tony Tilse, Shawn Seet, and Grant Brown, starring Hanna Griffiths, Gyton Grantley, Rodger Corser, Roy Billing, Matthew Newton, and Caroline Craig.
An ambitious true-crime series chronicling different eras in the history of the Australian criminal world, highlighting the colorful crooks, drug dealers, whores, loan sharks, and crooked cops of the time.
Billed as Australia’s answer to The Sopranos, Underbelly misses that high expectation mark by miles. Regardless of unreachable hype, the show is hugely ambitious, relentlessly entertaining, and a fun way to learn about Australian crime history. Each season dramatizes an era in Aussie crime, introducing us to real-life characters with larger than life personalities, ambitions, and sex-drives. The Underbelly: The Trilogy DVD box set collects the show’s first three seasons: “War on the Streets,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” and “The Golden Mile.”
“WAR ON THE STREETS”: The first and most entertaining of the set, this series looks at the Melbourne gangland killings that occurred from 1995 to 2004 and the rise of the Williams Gang, led by chubby scapegoat turned don Carl Williams. Williams’ main rivals are the Moran brothers, Jason and Mark, who sling drugs for Melbourne’s most revered gang: the Carlton Crew. Trying to throw them all behind bars is Task Force Purana, a group of elite cops. Bullets fly, people screw, and lots of frenetic montages happen.
The first episode sets the stage and lets the audience know not to get attached to any of these loveable villains. After all the show is based on a true series of gangland killings, so nobody is safe. On the flip side, although these are based on real-life baddies, most of them come off as caricatures. The only real notable actor who feels authentic is Gyton Grantley, who plays the ambitious, homicidal drug lord Carl Williams. Every second he’s on screen he’s truly mesmerizing – possibly because his character is so emotionally unstable.
The issues I had with “War on the Streets” – frequent, breakneck montages and cartoon-like characters – carried over into the next two seasons. The montages are frequent and cut superfast with shaky cam. Definitely not my preferred method of exposition. The show would have also benefited from displaying some kind of date marker. Each season covers nearly a decade and oftentimes it was difficult to tell how much time had passed in between episodes. Like in the first season, however, the next two always a couple characters who lifted the show up and made it hugely entertaining and genuinely addictive.
“A TALE OF TWO CITIES”: The second season goes back in time a few decades (1976-1987) and concerns the heroin trade in Sydney and Melbourne. The main villains in this case are real life BFFs “Aussie Bob” Trimbole and “Kiwi Terry” Clark. As Kiwi Terry, Matthew Newton is phenomenal; a charismatic, confident snake in a $5,000 suit. It’s easy to see how the real Kiwi Terry was so influential and had a gang of women smuggling drugs from Singapore for him. breathing down their neck all the time is bookie and casino owner George Freeman and armed robber extraordinaire Ray “Chuck” Bennett, who pulled off the Great Bookie Robbery of 1976.
“THE GOLDEN MILE”: The third series takes place in the seedy Sydney suburb of King’s Cross during the years 1988 – 1999. Known infamously as “The Golden Mile,” King’s Cross was essentially the Aussie 42nd St. We’re introduced to several new characters, including some crossover ones like George Freeman. A heavy focus is put on some obscenely corrupt cops from the New South Wales PD. When those guys have a night on the town they go hard. Other central characters include John Ibrahim, a young crime entrepreneur who plays it safe and makes more money before he’s 21 than I probably ever will in my life, and Kim Hollingsworth (Emma Booth) , a good-girl turned prostitute turned undercover cop. A story we can all relate to.
Overall, all three seasons are highly addictive, hyper-violent, and injected with just the right amount of dark humor. There are some stand-out performances that could go toe-to-toe with the best of the American villains, especially Carl freaking Williams from the first season. But the show suffers from a flurry of montages in each episode that did nothing but to nauseate and most likely cause seizures in some children. I ended up fast-forwarding through several of them and still followed the story without any hitches. That MTV-style of editing really detracts from the characters, no matter how many strippers they through in. Look past the montages (or fast-forward them like I did) and Underbelly is one bloody good crime series.
CARL WILLIAMS: DAY OF RECKONING: This 35-minute news special from 2007 examines the criminal career of Carl Williams. Since the first series was filmed while Williams’ future was up in the air, this special makes a great watch afterwards, as it continues the Williams story.
BEHIND THE SCENES: There are two behind the scenes features and these wind up being nothing buy glorified promos for the series.
Rating: Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Out of a Possible 5 Stars