First time director Serhat Caradee and a cast of fresh-faced talent pack a wallop with Cedar Boys, a tense and sharply observed drama about Lebanese-Australian Sydneysiders who dabble in the drug trade. Caradee makes certain from the get-go that his messing-with-the-big-boys narcotic-peddling plotline isn’t at all endowed in the wise crackin’ coolness and gangster-riffin’ style of sassy genre pics like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Cedar Boys is grittier and heavier, first earning the audience’s respect as a credible 20’s something multicultural coming-of-age story about making friends, finding your place and fitting in. Then its aspersions for crime-don’t-pay thrills leap out of the woodworks like a frog from a dynamite pond and the audience are brought tumbling up to speed with harsh reality, the characters ultimately and unsurprisingly wacked with the harsh stick of comeuppance.
Characterisations tinker on the edge of stereotypes but are drawn back to realism by Caradee’s screenplay and the cast’s restrained performances. The young, naïve but endearing Tarek (Les Chantery) longs to bust into the up market club scene but can’t afford it: he works at an auto shop and lives at home with his Arabic-speaking parents. Tarek’s brother Jamal (Bren Foster) is in prison and his appeal has stalled; the family too cannot afford to sustain the legal costs. So when a get rich quick opportunity strikes in the form of a bunch of looted bags of ecstasy pills Tarek and best bud Nabil (Buddy Dannoun) seize the day. Les Chantery is terrific as a decent person slowly straying out of his depth, the spoils of temptation leading Tarek to a world he doesn’t understand and wants no part of. It’s an understated performance rich in subtlety. Watch this face.
Cedar Boys is a stylish, well-executed and relatively sophisticated multicultural social commentary which packs the punch of an entertaining crime narrative spiced rather than centralised by a drug dealing subplot. The settings, characters and themes bear obvious similarities to David Field’s The Combination (released earlier this year) but this is a tighter and classier breed of film, shot in gritty low-key light and shadowed in a metallic midnight ambience somewhere between Rowan Woods’s The Boys and Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets. Caradee sucks massive impact out of a generic ending, so much so that audiences may not notice they’ve seen it before, the resolution technically understated but dramatically high-impact. Cedar boys is an explosive here-I-am burst upon the Australian film circuit from new boys on the block with plenty of talent and smarts, and it’s another great addition to an awesome year for local cinema. See it.
Cedar Boys’ Australian theatrical release date: July 30.