"In Melbourne criminals have a saying: We catch and kill our own ..."
John Silvester's opening line of the feature he and I worked on together with Simon Johanson and Matt Absalom-Wong at theage.com.au in 2004 sets the scene for the story of Melbourne's gangland killings more powerfully than any of Vince Colosimo's posturing on nine's Underbelly.
And Dave Steel's throbbing, sinister slide guitar track adds just the right threatening atmosphere to our "tour of murderous Melbourne".
Underbelly, however has a dinky little soundtrack that does nothing for the atmospherics and only works as an illustration of what a missed opportunity this show already appears to be. Can you imagine the Sopranos without the funky "Woke up this morning"? Or The Godfather without Larry Kusic and Nino Rota's famous theme?
Underbelly has been banned in Victoria, but I watched it in Brisbane last night and many Victorians will no doubt be watching it from today after downloading it from Bit Torrent sites like mininova, iso-hunt and Torrent-finder.
On a lot of levels it's a disappointing effort. The performances are quite strong but the timeframes feel too rushed. Some of the events portrayed - particularly around the murder of Greg Workman and the shooting of Alphonse Gangitano - directly reflect news reports of the time, but the sequence and lead up events are not clearly communicated to the viewer. So if you aren't already familiar with the stories on which the performances are based the storyline is confusing.
Alphonse Gangitano in Lygon Street
Gangitano is a good example. The guy was clearly deranged, but the producers have missed an opportunity to create a powerful figure in the tradition of deranged criminality, whether a Sonny Corleone or a Clyde Barrow. Instead we get superficial glimpses of Gangitano at home with his family contrasted with scenes of murder or mayhem that don't do much at all to expose why this guy might have acted in such a way.
Another missed opportunity.
It's almost as if in trying to capture the whole messy era in one (13 episode) series they've bypassed a great dramatic opportunity in favour of a quasi-documentary style. David Chase would have done this slowly across five or six series. The material warrants it. It's a pity Australian producers don't have the confidence to approach such rich material in the same way.