‘Australian Gangster’ is a two-part television miniseries from Down Under produced by Seven Network. This series, directed by Gregor Jordan and Faida Abboud, premiered on September 13, 2021. The project was initially scheduled to debut in October 2018; however, it was pushed back due to pending legal cases of the true story characters the show is based on whose court cases were still active at the time and couldn’t be released until they were finally closed.
The series runs for four hours and tells about the livelihood and the demise of a contemporary generation of criminals in the capital city of Australia. This kind of breed led by a flashy loudmouth called Pasquale Barbaro, a role played by Alexander Bertrand, doesn’t care about anything at all. Whether it’s playing this dangerous game safely, keeping a low profile to avoid drawing the attention of law enforcement and fellow competitors or even actually getting caught and being locked up. The focus character is, in fact, a carefree modern thug who only cares about how he looks on the picture-sharing platform, Instagram making a name for himself in a new, wannabe crime scene while grappling with the pressures of being a family man.
Writer slash director Gregor Jordan best known for the Australian classic crime comedy ‘Two Hands,’ does his best to put some energy into the real-life story of the ambitious crime lord Barbaro; however, there is a lot of quietude during the first nearly two hours run time. Regardless of the reason, during this large amount of screen time, the audience barely learns anything about Barbaro’s criminal activities. This could have possibly been because the real Pasquale Barbaro had just been murdered in 2016, and the filmmakers left a lot of essential and hard-hitting stuff out for fear of litigation. Instead, all the audiences see are a few montages of the latter dealing drugs, this gym fanatic driving around in his fancy Lamborghini and occasionally sniffing some bouts of coke, while an opponent, a Lebanese gangster known simply as Little Crazy embodied by Rahel Romahn, is seeking to put him down.
Things, however, pick up in the last hour of the program. The narrative’s themes finally become clear, with Little Crazy doing his best to prevent the wannabe kingpin from making it big in the money business in both the peddling hustle and real estate. Actually, the series portrays a very typical approach of the Sydney real estate with many real-life reference points inspired by the disappearance of Australian Activist Juanita Nielsen whose campaign against property development cost her her life. To some extent, Litle Crazy insults Barbaro by calling him a clown hence getting on Barbaro’s wrong books. The problem is that Barbaro isn’t able to pull the trigger himself because his kids cannot sleep since he made them watch the horror flick ‘Child’s Play.’ The conundrum is, will Barbaro put the kill under his own belt, or will he hand it over to a hitman to avoid any legal woes?
The central focus of this series is Barbaro’s flashy lifestyle of numerous body art, fancy clothing, and his despicable habits of picking up women at the fitness center while his poor wife Melinda, a role by Louisa Mignone, labors with taking care of their children. However, there are a few highlights of culture clash comedy scattered across the series. For instance, in the scene where Barbaro bullies a middle-class family into withdrawing a complaint against his violent pre-schooler only to find out later that his daughter wasn’t at any fault. Barbaro snatching back the free fancy wine he gave the couple as a peace offering is a pretty exciting touch.
What’s confusing, though, is that the show doesn’t quite seem to know exactly how it wants the audiences to perceive its lead man. In fact, many are left pondering whether he is a hilarious dimwit or simply a thug with real street smarts. As it is with these kinds of stories, they flourish by combining both aspects. Sadly, the writing of ‘Australian Gangster’ doesn’t quite push the envelope when it comes to this.
Looking at the opening episode, which promises to lay bare the social media-laden life of an Instagram criminal, an aspect that would have given the series a new direction away from the usual crime cliches falls flat on its face.
Watching this series in 2021 with the kind of technological advancements that the social media platform has gone through in the last few years, considering this was made in 2017, it really feels a bit outdated, which is a prominent aspect any social media fan would quickly notice. Something else that stands out is the use of Australian connotations, which are only recognizable by Australian audiences. But now dramas from Down Under are international; hence some of the messages don’t quite hit home.
There is also the aspect of dowdy violence where men are the real deal, and women watch the happenings from the sidelines, which would have worked four years ago but now if one’s story doesn’t naturally involve women, then it’s not going to land any airtime in Australian television.
The best feature in this show, despite the series feeling a bit choppy and coarse edited in the obnoxious television point of view, audiences get to spend more screen time with Bertrand, who is quite the real deal in the Great Southern Land. Despite being surrounded by half-baked characters in a storyline that takes ages to take off, this Australian hunk still portrays his bona fide star power. He singlehandedly keeps this series afloat, making sure audiences stay engaged and interested. His performance is so authentic, haunting, dramatic, and convincing that one might believe he has lived the kind of criminal lifestyle he displays on the screen.
Australian Gangster is trashy, snappy, and pulpy, packed with bling but just as forgettable as the flash and sparkle the bling exudes. It is not awful, though, and unlike the mindlessness at its core, it doesn’t come across as absurd. It is still worth the watch, though, thanks to Bertrand’s execution of the infamous Australian crime kingpin.