Returning to the surfers and party animals he profiled while co-helming “Bra Boys” with Sunny Abberton, Aussie documaker Macario De Souza delivers much more honest and technically polished results in “Fighting Fear.” Focused on the lifelong friendship between pro big-wave rider Mark Mathews and renowned Ultimate Fighting Championship competitor Richie Vaculik, this raw examination of the duo’s professional highs and severe personal lows is unlikely to replace “Bra Boys” as the highest grossing non-Imax Aussie docu of all time, but should perform strongly on its Nov. 10 domestic rollout. Abundance of quality extreme-sports footage will boost offshore ancillary prospects.
Narrated in a conversational tone by Aussie thesp Joel Edgerton, the docu opens with a brief history of Maroubra, a Sydney beach-side suburb with a strong working-class tradition and home to the Bra Boys, a surfing brotherhood feared in some quarters and admired in others.
Members of that fraternity and aged in their late 20s, Mathews and Vaculik have led lives that could have come straight from a gritty boxing drama. Both from broken homes, the two started palling around together as young boys and were attracted to the “fearless on the waves and fearless in life” Bra Boys credo.
Mathews found instant fame and fortune by discovering and then riding massive breaks at Shipstern’s Bluff in Tasmania, and following up with regular victories on the lucrative big-wave circuit. Vaculik developed an interest in mixed martial-arts fighting and quickly rose to world bantamweight title contender in the UFC ranks.
At the peak of their careers, both become involved in ugly alcohol-fueled brawls and were lucky to escape without jail sentences. The turning point for Mathews, prompting him to take stock, was a horrific wipeout that produced psychological trauma he has since overcome to reclaim prominence in the sport. For Vaculik, it was re-establishing ties with Lucia Perrotta, the ex-g.f. who left him as a result of his hard-partying ways and whose testimony provides a welcome and insightful femme perspective on the consequences of extreme male bonding.
Interviewed together after being filmed for three tumultuous years, Mathews and Vaculik are likable even if much of their past behavior is not. While not the types to get deep and meaningful, both speak honestly and with sincere regret for the damage caused by dark chapters in their lives. Their appropriately positioned flashes of self-deprecating Aussie humor will go down well with auds everywhere.
Fleshed out with appearances by surfing greats, including 11-time world champion Kelly Slater, the docu ends on an upbeat note that shows how Mathews and Vaculik have lost none of their lust-for-life mojo, now that they know how to harness it properly.
Outstanding HD surf footage, you-are-there fight coverage and nicely staged and shot dramatic re-creations are highlights of a smoothly assembled tech package. The Oz grunge and techno soundtrack rocks.