Jesse, in his late-teens, is the middle brother of three. His dream is to escape from his small-town, working-class fate, by becoming a pro surfer. His older step-brother, Victor, was himself a former surf champion whose career was mysteriously cut short and who manages his bitterness with alcohol and aggression. The younger brother, Fergus, who dresses emo-style and has never been part of surfing life, is the brunt of both brothers' bullying.
On one occasion, Jesse lets Fergus tag along when he heads off for a weekend on the beach with some friends - but is disturbed by the obvious sparks that fly between one of his surfer buddies and Fergus. In addition to this confusion, tragedy falls - and Jesse must decide whether surfing is really what he wants, or whether he is just trying to follow in his older brother's footsteps and live up to their father's ambitions.
NEWCASTLE is a visual treat: the surf sequences, above and below water, are beautifully shot, and the play between camera, water and light is quite stunning. (Also on the visuals front, the copious display of tanned, blond surfers' bodies is sure to have its own appeal.) The attractive cast put in some commendably strong performances, and the unexpected moments of tenderness and humour - together with a sympathetic soundscape - add a great deal of poignancy to the background surf-story frame.
So why only three stars (or three and a half, if such were an option)? Being familiar with director/writer Dan Castle's previous works (particularly his little-known, superb short film 'The Visitor'), and therefore of what he is *capable*, NEWCASTLE was somewhat disappointing: partly for its sanitization of homoeroticism (not even a kiss) and more significantly in the dumbing-down of Castle's usual character complexity - no doubt to appeal to mainstream sensibilities. It's hard not to feel that this film was aimed at a broader commercial market, and this is also apparent in its homage to conventional story arcs and the borderline over-sentimentality. In any event, this film certainly screams 'unrealized potential'.
Overall, NEWCASTLE is certainly a strong film, visually impressive, and even worth multiple viewings - just don't expect anything particularly sensual or edgy.