Bruce Beresford’s The Club is a classic Australian sports movie with next to no sport in it. Instead of pursuing the conventional trajectory of capturing camaraderie on the football field, the film, adapted from a play by David Williamson, is about football as war by other means: the game-behind-the-game is a battle of slashing wits and fiery spits, between footy aficionados involved in the management and organisation of a well-known AFL team.
Williamson’s trademark ear for great dialogue gives the screenplay rock-solid foundation, and revved-up performances from an arsenal of acting greats – including Jack Thompson, Graham Kennedy and John Howard – give the characters full-throttle four-n-twenty grunt and groan. It’s a War of the Words and everyone is exceptionally well-armed.
Long and heated arguments ensue when an ailing football club purchases a star recruit for an obscene price. The drama is monumentally exacerbated when the recruit, played by John Howard, can’t get along with his teammates and loses his passion for the sport, opting instead to spend his games stoned and daydreaming. Jack Thompson is his cranky coach, who has a don’t-f-with-me moustache that frequently steals the show. Pitted against Graham Kennedy’s spectacularly vacuous hairline, it’s a match-up emblazoned in the annals of cinematic trichosis.
Emphasising characters and performances, Beresford stays close to the film’s theatrical roots, as he did in the similarly memorable Don’s Party (also adapted from a Williamson script). The Club’s ending hits an uneasy note of faux resolution that would probably work better on the stage, but regardless, it’s an immensely satisfying gabfest, up there with Australian cinema’s most memorable play-to-film conversions.