Just when you thought it might be safe to get back into the waters of Aussie male culture, along comes a doco reaffirming the hard-drinking, hard-partying, hard-fighting values of good ol’ fashioned mateship. Fighting Fear is all that and some truly incredible surfing, as Bra Boys director Macario De Souza follows the friendship of Mark Mathews and Richie Vaculik, once fearless grommets and now at the top their sport, be it Big Wave Surfing or Mixed-Martial Arts.
Using recreations of their childhood days (fighting bullies) and early twenties (fighting anyone), De Souza shamelessly celebrates the booze-fueled antics of Mathews and Vaculik as young men looking for thrills and prepared to push themselves to the limit in or out of the water. And whilst this helped propel Mathews towards international recognition in surfing, and Vasalik in cage-fighting, their violent drunken brawling brought down their personal lives. In candid interviews the two men talk about the damage they did to themselves, their families and friends – and how they sought redemption back in the ring or out on the water – battling Brazilian black-belts or waves the size of the Titanic.
Perhaps better suited as a one hour tele-documentary, it takes a long time before the film gets to the recent, high gloss, slo-mo footage of Vasalik slugging it out against opponents or Mathews riding the massive wall of water at Tasmania’s Shipstern’s Bluff. And whilst both men have a rugged Aussie charm, the documentary has little place to go other than catalog their bad past behaviour or repeatedly show their determination to beat the next wave/contestant. Let’s face it, these boys ain’t about to set the world on fire with their insights on life.
Thanks to some help from screenwriter Sue Masters, the documentary is structured (perhaps a little too conveniently) as classical storytelling, although De Souza seems unsure when to call it quits – adding some extra footage as the final credits start to roll. Appearances from pro-surfers Kelly Slater & Mick Fanning enrich proceedings and Joel Edgerton’s casual narration sets a relaxed and gritty tone, matched by music from Melbourne band Twice as Nice. Apart from the incredible surfing cinematography, it might be worth paddling out the back of the cinema and waiting for something bigger and bolder.