A compact urban crimer about three Lebanese-Australian novices attempting to get rich quick with stolen drugs, "Cedar Boys" reps a strong debut by scripter-helmer Serhat Caradee. Garnished with tangy cross-cultural romance, this tightly structured yarn is a convincing and resolutely evenhanded depiction of life among Sydney's much-maligned "men of Middle-Eastern appearance." With the raw power to excite young males and the emotional substance to satisfy older upscale auds, the pic is a class above similarly themed 2009 local hit "The Combination," and should do robust biz on its July 30 release. Offshore ancillary buyers and fest programmers should take note.

A compact urban crimer about three Lebanese-Australian novices attempting to get rich quick with stolen drugs, “Cedar Boys” reps a strong debut by scripter-helmer Serhat Caradee. Garnished with tangy cross-cultural romance, this tightly structured yarn is a convincing and resolutely evenhanded depiction of life among Sydney’s much-maligned “men of Middle-Eastern appearance.” With the raw power to excite young males and the emotional substance to satisfy older upscale auds, the pic is a class above similarly themed 2009 local hit “The Combination,” and should do robust biz on its July 30 release. Offshore ancillary buyers and fest programmers should take note.

The script quickly establishes the trio’s central figure, Tarek (Les Chantery), as a fundamentally decent young man auds can empathize with even as he makes bad choices. A low-paid employee at an auto workshop who lives with his Arabic-speaking parents, he wants a more sophisticated life than tooling around the ‘hood with best mates Nabil (Buddy Dannoun), a cleaner with a dead-end future, and Sam (Waddah Sari), a small-time hustler with a short fuse.

Most pressing is Tarek’s concern for his imprisoned brother, Jamal (Bren Foster), whose legal appeal has stalled for lack of funds. His finances already strained, Tarek finds the going even tougher when he strikes up a romance with Amie (Rachael Taylor, “Transformers”), a sexy blonde who likes expensive drugs and runs with the upmarket Eastern suburbs party crowd he craves to be part of.

Pic cranks into top gear when Tarek succumbs to temptation. Nabil has discovered an apartment used by drug dealers; bringing Sam in on the action, the boys lift the bulk of the goods and think they’ve got everything covered after tipping off cops about the leftovers.

Naturally, everything comes unstuck soon after the stuff hits the streets. But the film’s vigorous direction and its avoidance of the easy option of having the members of the team turn on each other keep things pumping toward a finale that packs a wallop.

Thesps rise to the occasion, especially Taylor as the uptown girl with a secretly downtown career path. Local name actors Martin Henderson and Daniel Amalm inject heavy-duty menace late in the piece as goons working for syndicate big boys who want their merchandise back.

Pic is well put together on a modest budget. Fluid widescreen HD-to-35mm lensing by Peter A. Holland has a slightly bluish-green tinge that lends an effective European feel without looking too arty. Rocking soundtrack combines top hip-hop numbers with terrific Mideast-flavored sounds by Khaled Sabsabi, a respected local musician composing his first score. The rest of the technical package is fine.

Cedar Boys

Australia

Production

A Hoyts Distribution, Mushroom Pictures release of a Screen Australia presentation, in association with New South Wales Film & Television Office, of a Templar Entertainment production. (International sales: Templar, Sydney.) Produced by Ranko Markovic, Jeff Purser, Matthew Dabner. Executive producers, Martin Fabinyi, Michael Gudinski, Daniella Ortega, Gary Rogers. Co-producer, Serhat Caradee. Directed, written by Serhat Caradee.

Crew

Camera (color, HD-to-35mm, widescreen), Peter A. Holland; editor, Suresh Ayyar; music, Khaled Sabsabi; production designer, Claire Granville; art director, Deborah Eldred; costume designer, Lisa Walpole; sound (Dolby Digital), Mark Cornish; assistant director, Greg Cobain; casting, Marianne Jade. Reviewed at Sydney Film Festival, June 10, 2009. Running time: 104 MIN.

With

Les Chantery, Rachael Taylor, Buddy Dannoun, Waddah Sari, Martin Henderson, Daniel Amalm, Bren Foster, Jake Wall, Erica Lovell, Hani Malik, Taffy Hany, Helen Chebatte, Lucy Abroon. (English, Arabic dialogue)
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