“Bra Boys” centers on the Abberton brothers and their struggles growing up in the beach ghetto of Maroubra – the last three letters of which form the basis for the gang’s name. This focus is a logical one considering that the director of the movie is Sunny Abberton. His involvement immediately calls into question the project’s objectivity: How can a documentary be considered a valid and accurate historical document if the director is one of the subjects?
However, to its credit, “Bra Boys” makes almost no pretense at being a dispassionate look at the Boys’ effect on their environment and Australian culture in general. In fact, “Bra Boys,” much like the Stacey Peralta-directed “Dog Town and Z-Boys” is almost unabashedly a hero-making vehicle. The audience is supposed to idolize these boys, while being careful not to look with too much scrutiny at their perspectives on the events depicted.
What makes this documentary a good one is not its evenhanded storytelling or its fair and balanced reporting of all events. It is a good documentary, almost because it makes no attempt at objectivity and precision and because of its creator’s close involvement with the subjects. There is literally no other way this movie could have been made – all of the footage is direct source material and there is obviously unrestricted access to the Abberton family. Sunny Abberton does a competent job of telling the Bra Boys’ story, but with the sheer volume of resources available to him, the documentary would have to be considered a massive failure had he done anything short of that.
At no time is his access and closeness to the project more apparent than during the film’s central focus, Jai Abberton’s murder trial. Sunny Abberton captures and displays the family’s raw reactions to Jai’s arrest and trial in a way that only a family member could. He is there during all the significant events as a family member, not as a documentarian. As a result, we get the full dramatic scene outside of the courtroom, complete with brother and famed professional surfer Koby Abberton breaking down and crying as the camera is inches away.
None of this is to say that the movie focuses on the social troubles of the Bra Boys to the exclusion of surfing. The movie, like its subject, gains much of its charm and importance from the surfing, without which it would simply be a documentary about a gang. The waves are huge and the Bra Boys take them on in fairly spectacular fashion, resulting in some impressive visuals and serving as a good chaser to the gnarly social aspects the movie deals with. Although the surfing sometimes seems secondary to the story being told, there is still a healthy representation of the Boys’ abilities.
“Bra Boys” may be nothing more than an 86-minute advertisement for how awesome the Maroubra crew is, but accepting that as its stated goal, it can be considered a success.