Nominal Catholics' middle-class angst


Tangle (M) Starring: Ben Mendelsohn, Justine Clarke, Kat Stewart, Catherine McClement, Matt Day, Joel Tobeck, Blake Davis, Lincoln Younes, Georgia Flood, Eva Lazzaro, Lucia Mastrantone. Thursdays, 8.30 pm, Showcase.

Joel Tobeck, Ben Mendelsohn and Lincoln Younes in TangleTangle is one of those deliberate titles that is itself a tangle of meaning. It refers to the tangle of its characters' lives with each other, via familial or circumstantial association. And to the fact that an individual life can be a tangle of obligations, self-interest and other forces. Then there's tangle in the adversarial sense, as in 'to tangle with' — yep, that applies too; there's plenty of conflict to be found among this knot of middle-class suburbanites.

Tangle, screening on Foxtel's Showcase, is the type of finely crafted Australian drama that fits the high-end, HBO-style model to which Showcase aspires. It's a thinking-person's soapy, complete with a talented and accomplished cast. The writers deftly mete out the snags and strands of this convoluted yarn with the dexterity of a sleight-of-hand artist. Watch closely:

At the centre of the mess is a jogger, who took a fatal tumble down a steep embankment during a morning jog. Fatefully, the jogger's route, around the iconic Yarra Bend (itself a sweeping tangle of tarmac) in the affluent Melbourne suburb of Kew, is shared by arrogant builder Vince (Mendelsohn). And the corpse comes to rest in a discreet, bushy location that is frequented by Vince's loner teenage nephew, Max (Blake Davis).

Max discovers the body, then shares his morbid find with his obnoxious cousin, Vince's son Romeo (Younes), and their friend Charlotte (Flood). Rather than going to the police, the teens steal the man's ID and keys, and pay a visit to his house, which they swiftly appropriate as their personal clubhouse. This becomes a point of contention and a matter of pride between the two boys, both of whom are vying for Charlotte's attention.

Twisted, yes — and that's just the children. The adults, busy jealously guarding their own needs and desires, are oblivious to what the kids are up to. Charlotte's mum (Mastrantone) is having an affair with Vince, and his wife, Ally (Clarke) is infatuated with a Russian cosmonaut who lives on a space station (they talk daily via radio).

In addition to their children, Romeo and the eccentric Gigi (Lazzaro), Vince and Ally are playing host to Vince's best mate Gabriel (Day) — he's recently dumped his girlfriend overseas, because he's secretly carrying a torch for Ally. Ally's flaky, manipulative sister, Nat (Stewart), has also returned following a 15-year absence.

Nat is Max's biological mother, but his father, State MP Tim (Tobeck), and adoptive mother (and Ally's best friend) Christine (McClement), are determined to keep her out of their lives. Nat is a threat to their equilibrium, especially since Tim's career as a public servant could be vulnerable should knowledge of seedy domestic dramas, such as a vindictive former lover or a son who hangs out in a dead man's house, become public.

Oh, and they're all Catholic. This fact plays a practical role in their lives (they speak dutifully of Mass and Confession) but does not seem to pervade deeply. The contrast between purported religious belief and unethical lifestyles seems less an indictment of organised religion than of purely nominal or obligatory faith practices.

'Tangle' is right. But don't be put off. As with any imposing knot, there's always a sense that a tug on the right thread will unravel the whole lot. In this case, the sensation reflects a feeling of impending doom. You'll want to keep coming back to see just how this awful tangle is going to unspool.

The cast is as good as any ever assembled for an Australian series. They get the humanity that makes ignoble characters relatable. Clarke and Day are attractive and affable in an everyday kind of way. And the only thing that makes the appalling Vince likeable is that Mendelsohn, at 40, still looks like a cheeky ten-year-old. He epitomises the way the adults' childlike self-absorption makes them at once pathetic and sympathetic.

Episode five of this ten-part series airs tonight at 8.30pm on Showcase. Check the Showtime Australia website for details on when to catch reruns of earlier episodes.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. His articles and reviews have been published by Melbourne's The Age, Inside Film, the Brisbane Courier-Mail and The Big Issue. He was Chair of the Interfaith Jury at the 2009 St George Brisbane International Film Festival.

Topic tags: Tangle, Ben Mendelsohn, Justine Clarke, Kat Stewart, Catherine McClement, Matt Day, Joel Tobeck



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Existing comments

Obviously a poor take on Brideshead Revisited, but without the integrity of Catholic faith to make it a classic.

Did you watch the final season episode of Hunter on Friday 16th Oct on ABC 1?

The dear old Catholic Right got a right royal doing over with a band of looney pro-lifers killing kids.

If the literary arts are going to dish up such nonsense in this generation, I'd love to be around in a century to hear the the ridicule - 'they did what! A little dark age, a little ice age, how tragic for the people they had to put up with such ideologues.'

Fr Mick Mac Andrew Bombala-Delegate NSW | 25 October 2009  

Mick, I did watch that episode of Hunter. More entertainment than art, and the story line did give the religious right-to-lifers a bollocking. But I was surprised to be moved to thought by the ending (not usual in soapies). Hunter, the central character, expressed some empathy with the woman who was prepared to kill for her cause, and to the surprise of his woman assistant expressed his unease at abortion. A sub-plot in the episode also presented an abortion as seriously disturbing a relationship.

Absurd and too easy plot, certainly, but for my money, not an ideologically controlled episode

Dan McGonnigal | 25 October 2009  

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