Month: February 2018

Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)


The story of the infamously bloody Battle of Iwo Jima, as told from the perspective of the doomed Japanese soldiers who fought it.

As Allied forces reclaim the Pacific in 1945, only one island stands between them and the Japanese mainland: Iwo Jima.

Lt. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) arrives to command the forces on the tiny, unpopulated volcanic island. He surveys Iwo Jima with his subordinates and inspects the troops. Kuribayashi insists on rationing food for everyone on the island (not just the enlisted men) and condemns the banzai suicide attacks, viewing them as a waste of human life. Smart and ingenious, Kuribayashi worked as an international diplomat in America for two years prior to the war, so he is more educated than most on the American mentality and, importantly, how to defeat them. Tough but fair, Kuribayashi attempts to use the geographical features of Iwo Jima to his advantage, ordering his soldiers to dig tunnels and caves in the hills, as opposed to trenches on the beach.

Kuribayashi’s old friend, Baron Nishi (Tsuyoshi Ihara), joins him in the daunting task of keeping Iwo Jima out of American hands. Charming and well-educated, Nishi is a former Olympic equestrian champion who appreciates Kuribayashi’s resourcefulness despite the objections of other officers.


Meanwhile, Private Saido (Kazunari Ninomiya) writes letters home to his wife during his time in the caves. An earnest and intelligent man, Saido begins to doubt his mission; unlike many of his compatriots, he doesn’t want to sacrifice himself for the good of the Empire. He finds an unlikely kindred spirit in the mysterious Shimizu (Ryo Kase), a former member of the kenpeitei (secret police).

Knowing that his men lack adequate food, water, and ammunition, Kuribayashi tries to keep spirits high, but he is alarmed when he hears that the Allied forces have decimated the Japanese Navy and Air Force at the Battle of the Mariana Islands. Desperate for any sort of assistance, Kuribayashi sends the increasingly ill Admiral Ohsugi (Nobumasa Sakagami) back to Tokyo to request support.

Despite no air or naval reinforcements, Kuribayashi remains stoic and turns what was predicted to be an easy, five-day American victory into over a month of prolonged, brutal warfare.

“If our children can live safely for one more day, it would be worth the one more day that we defend this island,” Kuribayashi urges his men.

Along the way, we see Saido, Shimizu, and others struggle to come to grips with their suicide mission while also showing empathy, courage, and bravery in the face of impossible odds.


This film is one of my favorites. War films typically draw you in quickly, and Letters from Iwo Jima takes a unique perspective. Clint Eastwood had previously helmed Flags of our Fathers, a WWII movie that focused on the American side of the Battle of Iwo Jima, but along the way, the veteran director said he was stricken by the similarities of the letters that American and Japanese soldiers wrote. In particular, Eastwood said he found it intriguing that American soldiers only wanted to be home with their families, away from the hellish conditions of war, but the Japanese knew that they were not expected to come home alive, with suicide being preferable to capture.

This is explored in-depth in the movie itself. Shmizu states early on in the film that American soldiers lack discipline and let their emotions interfere with their battle duties. Japanese soldiers, he reasons, are honored to die for their Emperor and their country, viewing death as the only honorable method of leaving a war. However, Saido consistently shows humanity, being willing to care for the wounded and follow Kuribayashi’s orders, even when other soldiers or officers refuse and opt for suicide.

The reason Letters from Iwo Jima succeeds on such a grand scale is the character development. It’s an incredibly dark story, showing hopeless, exhausted, hungry men preparing for their inevitable deaths at the hands of their sworn enemies. To be sure, the film never shies away from the brutality of the Japanese, but still shows their humanity and their struggles to come to grips with their new reality. These men were willing and able to die for extremist, imperialist nationalism, but they still worried about their families and their communities just like a soldier of any nationality.


Letters from Iwo Jima was released in Japan on December 9, 2006 and in the US on December 20. The film received overwhelming acclaim in both countries, with audiences responding strongly to the performances and direction. Made for a modest $19 million, Letters from Iwo Jima grossed almost $69 million at the worldwide box office and received rave reviews from Rolling Stone, Variety, the Los Angeles Times, and Entertainment Weekly. 

While Letters did win Best Foreign Language Film at that year’s Golden Globes, it was ineligible for the same award at the Oscars since it was made and shot in the States by an American director. Nonetheless, the movie received four nominations overall at the Oscars — Best Director, Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Sound Editing.

In short, Letters from Iwo Jima features outstanding acting and directing, a moving story, and suitable period-piece cinematography. It’s a tour-de-force and one of the best war films of the modern era.


Grade: A+

  • Directed by Clint Eastwood
  • Produced by Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, and Robert Lorenz
  • Screenplay by Iris Yamashita
  • Story by Iris Yamashita & Paul Haggis
  • Based on the book “Picture Letters from Commander-in-Chief” by Tadamichi Kuribayashi & Tsuyoko Yoshido
  • Starring Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase, Shido Nakamura, Takumi Bando, Eijiro Ozaki, Hiroshi Watanabe, Takashi Yamaguchi, Yuki Matsuzaki, Nobumasa Sakagami, Ken Kensei, Toshi Toda, Hiro Abe, Masashi Nagadoi
  • Director of Photography — Tom Stern
  • Music — Kyle Eastwood & Michael Stevens
  • Editor — Joel Cox & Gary D. Roach
  • Rated R for graphic war violence.


  • Filmed back-to-back with Flags of our Fathers.
  • Most of the young cast knew nothing about the incidents on Iwo Jima, as the subject is not taught in Japanese schools.
  • One of only nine foreign language films ever to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Though shot almost entirely in Japanese, it was an American production and was therefore ineligible for a Best Foreign Language Film nomination.
  • When word spread that acclaimed Japanese actor Ken Watanabe had been cast in the lead role of Kuribayashi, virtually every young actor in Japan became interested in working on the film as well.
  • Eastwood had originally wanted to film Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of our Fathers as one film, but as pre-production continued on Flags, he felt it would be impossible to fit both of the storylines into a single movie. Primarily, Eastwood stated that the two separate cultures created very distinctive and separate storylines, creating the need for two individual films about the same battle.
  • The film was shot entirely in California in only 32 days. The filmmakers were not allowed to film in Iwo Jima itself due to cultural taboos, as over 10,000 soldiers are still buried on the island.
  • Ken Watanabe visited the birthplace and grave of Kuribayashi to help him build on his characterization.
  • Eastwood originally wanted Paul Haggis, a frequent collaborator, to write the script, but Haggis felt like he lacked the expertise required to make a foreign language film. He recommended Iris Yamashita, a Japanese-American writer who was a research assistant on Flags of our Fathers.
  • In an effort to keep the movie as historically accurate as possible, costume designer Deborah Hopper deliberately chose not to use silk in any of the period kimono costumes that are used in the film’s flashbacks. Silk was considered too expensive of a fabric to be used in wartime and its use in garments was prohibited.

Ed Wood (1994)


Based on the real-life story of Edward D. Wood Jr., the independent, DIY filmmaker who is widely considered to have made some of the worst movies of all time.

Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) sees himself as the poor man’s Orson Welles, making numerous low-no budget genre films on tight schedules, in addition to acting, directing, and producing his own projects.

Born in Poughkeespie, New York, Wood insists he had a happy small-town childhood, surrounded by comic books, classic horror and sci-fi films, and other nostalgic media that inspired him to be a filmmaker. However, Wood’s mother always wanted a girl, so she dressed him up in girl’s clothing frequently, which affected his psyche as an adult. Wood is therefore a heterosexual cross-dresser, often commenting about how he likes the way angora sweaters feel on his skin. He also mentions that, as a Marine corporal in World War II, he was petrified of getting injured even more so than getting killed, given his penchant for wearing women’s clothing under his uniform.

Despite his quirks and strange traits, Wood’s relentless optimism keeps him going through multiple career disappointments. His actress wife, Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker), helps him at various stages of his filmmaking processes, and Wood also enlists the services of cynical exploitation film producer George Weiss (Mike Starr).

By chance, Wood strikes up a friendship with his boyhood hero, horror film legend Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau). Long considered washed-up — and even presumed dead — by film industry executives, Lugosi still has plenty of talent and ends up acting in several of Wood’s most notorious films, including Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Wood’s campy, error-filled movies draw a small cult following. He seldom does more than one take, as many of his films are made on extremely small budgets, rarely taking more than two weeks to shoot. Despite the lack of respect from his Hollywood peers, Wood perseveres and draws more attention from various people in the industry. However, Wood also deals with financial troubles and relationship drama, and his partnership with Lugosi is put in jeopardy due to the veteran actor’s drug problems. Can Mr. Wood triumph and become an unlikely success story?


This film biography takes a comedy-drama approach and succeeds all the more for it. The real Ed Wood (1924-1978) died a penniless alcoholic at the age of 54 after failing to attract any notable attention — either positive or negative — post-Plan 9 From Outer Space, which is now widely considered to be one of the worst films ever made. Despite his many ups and downs and obvious lack of filmmaking skills, the real Wood had an extremely fascinating life story. Although he died in relative obscurity, Wood’s life and career were re-examined in 1992, when writer Rudolph Grey penned the biography Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood Jr. 

The movie itself was penned by the writing team of Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski when they were both students at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. They eventually decided to make the film in order to avoid typecasting after some initial success with children’s movies. Alexander and Karaszewski pitched the script to Tim Burton, a young director/producer who was fresh off two huge successes — the 1990 version of Batman and Edward Scissorhands.

Burton and Denise Di Novi agreed to produce Ed Wood for Columbia Pictures; but the project’s director, Michael Lehmann, had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. Burton decided to direct the film himself, but Columbia butted heads with him when he decided to shoot Ed Wood in black-and-white. Eventually, the script was shipped off to Disney, who made the film through their Touchstone Pictures subsidiary.

At the time, Depp was in a career rut, trying to avoid typecasting as a 30-year-old rising star. But when Burton approached him about playing Wood, Depp was instantly intrigued. “The role gave me a chance to stretch out and have some fun,” Depp recalled, adding that working with a legend like Landau helped him renew his passion for acting. In order to prepare for his role, Depp studied Jack Haley’s performance as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz.


Ed Wood is an excellent film, featuring extraordinary acting from Depp (in his second collaboration with Burton) and Landau, who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as Bela Lugosi. The movie explores Wood’s weirdness and his utter lack of talent, but also shows his odd charm and humanity.

The relationship between Wood and Lugosi is a major highlight. Written off by Hollywood as a has-been, the gruff, no-nonsense Lugosi still takes an interest in Wood, and their friendship results in some of the film’s most memorable moments. Wood’s relationship with Dolores, his first wife, also takes center-stage at several times. In addition to Landau and Depp’s outstanding performances, the movie is frequently lifted by its excellent supporting cast, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Bill Murray, and Jeffrey Jones.

Ed Wood was released in 1994 to critical acclaim, with particular praise for the acting and directing. However, despite earning two Oscars (Best Supporting Actor and Best Makeup), the movie flopped at the box office, earning a mere $5.9 million on an $18 million budget.

Burton is an excellent director, and Ed Wood has outstanding costume and production design, but the film can sometimes feel unfocused or inconsistent in tone. This can be common in biopic films, considering that one is trying to cram in lots of information, drama, and comedy into a two-hour runtime. With that being said, Ed Wood is very well-made and does almost exactly what I expected it to do. I highly recommend it, particularly if you’re interested in Depp’s early ’90s work.

Grade: B+

  • Directed by Tim Burton
  • Produced by Tim Burton and Denise Di Novi
  • Written by Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski
  • Based on the book “Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood Jr.” by Rudolph Grey
  • Director of Photography — Stefan Czapsky
  • Music by Howard Shore
  • Editor — Chris Lebenzon
  • Starring Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Bill Murray, Lisa Marie, Jeffery Jones, Juliet Landau, George Steele, Ned Bellamy, Max Casella, Vincent D’Onofrio
  • Rated R for some strong language.


  • The movie cost more to make ($18 million) than all of the real Ed Wood’s movies combined.
  • Kathy Wood, Ed’s widow, once visited the set and asked to meet Johnny Depp. That day, they were filming a scene where Wood would look really messed up, which made Burton nervous for what Kathy would think of the movie. When Depp exited his trailer, she said, “That’s my Eddie.”
  • Tim Burton’s second collaboration with Johnny Depp, after Edward Scissorhands. Also the first Burton movie in which his frequent collaborator, Danny Elfman, did not compose the score.
  • Martin Landau won the Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi — the first time any actor had won an Oscar for playing another actor.
  • Bela Lugosi Jr. loved the movie, but objected to his father’s speech in the film; according to the younger Lugosi, his father never used profanity.
  • The real Dolores Fuller enjoyed Depp’s performance and Burton’s direction, but was displeased with her portrayal in the film. Particularly, she objected to the circumstances of her and Wood’s initial breakup (she left him primarily because of his alcoholism, which is not depicted in the film).
  • In addition to Jack Haley’s performance in The Wizard of Oz, Depp said he was influenced by the films of Ronald Reagan and Casey Kasem. Depp also commented that he had previously been introduced to Wood’s films through director John Waters.
  • In the film, Lugosi dismisses Boris Karloff’s role of Frankenstein’s monster as “all make-up and grunting.” In real life, Lugosi himself was offered the part and turned it down because it didn’t have any speaking lines and required too much make-up.
  • One source claims that one of the reasons that Burton chose to shoot in black-and-white was that he had no idea how Bela Lugosi should be filmed in color, as all of the actor’s own films were in black-and-white. In order to accommodate the black-and-white film stock, Landau’s makeup was done in a deliberately contrasted way, with parts of his face nearly painted white.
  • Landau did not want his portrayal of Lugosi to be over-the-top, saying that “Lugosi was theatrical, but I never wanted the audience to feel I was an actor chewing the scenery… I felt it had to be Lugosi’s theatricality, not mine.” In order to imitate Lugosi’s voice and mannerisms, Landau watched approximately 35 Lugosi movies and purchased Hungarian language tapes.
  • Burton’s first collaboration with editor Chris Lebenzon and his second with costume designer Colleen Atwood.
  • Out of his entire filmography, Burton has said that this movie is his personal favorite.

2018 AFL season preview


#18 — North Melbourne Kangaroos

  • 2017 RECORD: 6-16
  • COACH: Brad Scott, 9th season (88-75)
  • CAPTAIN: Jack Ziebell
  • HOME GROUND: Etihad Stadium (capacity 56,583)
  • ALTERNATE/NEUTRAL GROUND: Blundstone Arena, Hobart (capacity 19,500)
  • TRAINING GROUND: Arden Street Oval
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Alex Morgan
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Will Fordham, Sam Gibson, Lachlan Hansen, Aaron Mullett, Andrew Swallow, Matthew Taylor, Lindsay Thomas, Corey Wagner
  • BIGGEST 2017 WIN: Round 7 vs Adelaide (59 point W)
  • WORST 2017 LOSS: Round 17 vs Port Adelaide (70 point L)

The Roos suffered through a mediocre 2017 campaign despite the presence of slick forward Ben Brown, who led the team with 63 goals and earned All-Australian honors in the process. Midfielder Shaun Higgins won best-and-fairest for the club, and managed to shine in key moments.

However, despite Higgins and Brown, North Melbourne were victims of maddening inconsistency — they continued their dominance of rival Melbourne, beating them twice, but suffered 40-plus point thrashings to Sydney, Port Adelaide, West Coast, and Greater Western Sydney. The Kangaroos also lost to Fremantle (twice) and the Western Bulldogs by a combined 12 points.

On the field, the Roos suffered through poor play from previously dominant ruckman Todd Goldstein, and they also need ultra-athletic big man Majak Daw to play at a higher level. Small forward Lindsay Thomas was shown the door after an up-and-down season (he landed with Port Adelaide during free-agency).

Apart from Brown, there’s really not too much to carry the Roos throughout the course of the AFL season. While 2017 was expected to be a year of transition after several notable retirements, the Roos still couldn’t muster up the mojo to win close games or spring any major upsets. With most of last year’s underachieving clubs expected to improve, this could be one of the clubs left behind in 2018.


#17 — Gold Coast Suns

  • 2017 RECORD: 6-16
  • COACH: Stuart Dew, 1st season
  • CAPTAINS: Steven May/Tom Lynch 
  • HOME GROUND: Metricon Stadium (capacity 25,000)
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Lachie Weller, Harrison Wigg, Aaron Young
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Gary Ablett, Keegan Brooksby, Daniel Currie, Ryan Davis, Jarrad Grant, Mitch Hallahan, Cam Loersch, Brandon Matera, Trent McKenzie, Adam Saad, Matt Shaw
  • BIGGEST 2017 WIN: Round 7 vs Geelong (25-point W)
  • WORST 2017 LOSS: Round 8 vs Port Adelaide (72-point L)

The Gold Coast Suns were a mess in 2017, and the season ended as many predicted: the young, injury-riddled team missed the Finals once again, coach Rodney Eade got fired, and superstar Gary Ablett departed to go back to Geelong. In addition to Ablett, speedster defender Adam Saad departed to Essendon, and Brandon Matera moved on to Fremantle. The Suns looked lost in some games, and ended the year on an eight-match losing streak.

Enter 38-year-old Stuart Dew, an energetic young coach who is determined to make the Suns relevant behind the leadership of co-captains Tom Lynch and Steven May. Lynch should be a priority heading into his final year of his contract, and after how the Ablett situation unfolded, Gold Coast will be looking to hold onto one of their stars. Key forward Peter Wright looks primed for another excellent season after booting 31 goals in 2017, while former Port Adelaide gun Aaron Young should also be an impact player up front.

Some other players to watch include Ben Ainsworth, who averaged 11.7 disposals per game as a rookie, as well as Jarrod Witts, who emerged as a solid ruck option last year. Sam Day (hip), Tom Nicholls (hip/shoulder), and Michael Barlow (leg) are a trio of youngsters who suffered through an unlucky stretch of injuries in 2017, but are eager to be back and impress the new coaching staff. Midfielder Kade Kolodjashnij also looked strong in the preseason after a pair of concussions derailed his 2017 campaign.

There’s also an added wrinkle to Gold Coast’s season: the club will not play their opening five home games at Metricon Stadium, as it will be in use for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Bottom line: there’s hope for the future. But shaky depth and a brand-new staff will keep the Suns in the basement for another year.


#16 — Carlton Blues

  • 2017 RECORD: 6-16
  • COACH: Brendon Bolton, 3rd season (13-31)
  • CAPTAIN: Marc Murphy
  • HOME GROUND: Melbourne Cricket Ground (capacity 100,018)
  • TRAINING GROUND: Princes Park
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Matthew Kennedy, Darcy Lang, Matthew Lobbe, Aaron Mullett
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Dennis Armfield, Blaine Boekhorst, Dylan Buckley, Andrew Gallucci, Bryce Gibbs, Daniel Gorringe, Kristian Jaksch, Matt Korchek, Rhys Palmer, Ciaran Sheehan, Billie Smedts, Liam Sumner, Simon White
  • BIGGEST 2017 WIN: Round 6 vs. Sydney (19-point W)
  • WORST 2017 LOSS: Round 14 vs Richmond (26-point L)

Carlton needs the “under construction” sign on the door once again, as they enter Year Three of the Brendon Bolton rebuilding project. The energetic young coach has overhauled the Blues’ playing list in an effort to have long-term consistency and more young talent to build around. Bolton has not been shy about blooding new players early on, even if it means more growing pains.

Leading goalkicker Levi Casboult (34) improved on his 2016 form, but still disappeared sometimes in big games, and the Blues’ confidence fell accordingly. Carlton didn’t score over 100 points in the entirety of the 2017 season, and they need more production from the youngsters on the playing list.

However, it wasn’t all bad news in 2017: captain Marc Murphy shook off nagging injuries to return to his old form, Liam Jones blossomed after being moved full-time into defense, and Matthew Kreuzer began to come into his own as one of the AFL’s best ruckmen. The offseason introductions of former GWS gun Matthew Kennedy and ex-Geelong player Darcy Lang should help bolster the Blues’ midfield depth.

Carlton also needs one of their rising stars, Ed Curnow, to play a full season after breaking his leg in Round 14 last year. His loss sent the Blues into a tailspin, as they lost nine out of their last 10. All-Australian Sam Docherty also tore his ACL late in 2017 and could miss the entire 2018 season.

The youth movement should start to pay off more consistently in 2018 for Carlton, but they still aren’t ready to push for Finals contention yet. They need to focus on winning close games and developing tall targets up forward who can kick goals.


#15 — Brisbane Lions

  • 2017 RECORD: 5-17
  • COACH: Chris Fagan, 2nd season (5-17)
  • CAPTAIN: Dayne Beams
  • HOME GROUND: The Gabba (capacity 42,000)
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Charlie Cameron, Luke Hodge
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Josh Clayton, Michael Close, Jonathan Freeman, Blake Grewar, Matthew Hammelmann, Cian Hanley, Ryan Harwood, Jarrad Jansen, Tom Rockliff, Josh Schache, Reuben William
  • BIGGEST 2017 WIN: Round 15 at Essendon (8-point W)
  • WORST 2017 LOSS: Round 16 vs Geelong (85-point L)

The Lions lost team captain Tom Rockliff and promising young forward Josh Schache in the offseason, a year after earning the dubious wooden spoon with a 5-17 record.

However, most Brisbane fans are as optimistic as they’ve been in awhile, due to the presence of two men: Luke Hodge and Chris Fagan.

The legendary Hodge won four premierships with the Hawthorn Hawks from 2002-2017 and announced his retirement as this past year concluded, but the 33-year-old shocked the footy world when he un-retired and elected to join the Lions. His presence immediately gives Brisbane a leadership boost and a classy kick.

Meanwhile, Fagan has the Lions on the right track entering his second season as head coach. The native Tasmanian and longtime Hawthorn assistant is hoping for a steady move up the ladder in order to get the Lions to their first AFL Finals berth since 2009.

Personnel-wise, Brisbane boasts a number of talented players to surround Hodge, including lanky young forward Eric Hipwood and a newly-healthy Allen Christiansen. In addition to Hodge, the big offseason splash was grabbing former Adelaide onballer Charlie Cameron, who wanted a trade to Brisbane in order to be closer to family.

Also watch out for the two Daynes — Beams and Zorko — the latter of whom was the only Lion to earn All-Australian honors in 2017. A push for the Finals is unlikely in 2018, but Brisbane has the ingredients to inch forward under Fagan.


#14 — Fremantle Dockers

  • 2017 RECORD: 8-14
  • COACH: Ross Lyon, 7th season (79-61-1)
  • CAPTAIN: David Mundy
  • HOME GROUND: Optus Stadium (capacity 60,000)
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Brandon Matera, Nathan Wilson
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Harley Balic, Zac Clarke, Sam Collins, Hayden Crozier, Zac Dawson, Josh Deluca, Jonathon Griffin, Garrick Ibbotson, Nick Suban, Matthew Uebergang, Lachie Weller, Shane Yarran
  • BIGGEST 2017 WIN: Round 8 at Richmond (2-point W)
  • WORST 2017 LOSS: Round 12 at Brisbane (57-point L)

The Dockers suffered through another mediocre year at the club, and some fans are growing restless with long-time coach Ross Lyon.

On the bright side, Freo revamped its veteran list after a horrific start, throwing young players into the deep end and getting mixed results, with the Dockers dropping several close games and fading down the stretch, losing 11 of their last 13.

However, fans should be excited about the new guys getting considerable playing time. Sean Darcy, in particular, looked sharp as a ruckman while filling in for injured veteran Aaron Sandilands. Also, superstar Nat Fyfe re-signed a long-term deal midseason despite overtures from numerous Melbourne-based clubs.

Following the season, Fremantle got rid of several players via trade, including Harley Balic, Lachie Weller, and Hayden Crozier, but they also added former Giant defender Nathan Wilson, who should help bolster the backline, as well as small forward Brandon Matera, a Perth native who most recently played for Gold Coast. Matera should help ease the load off the oft-injured Hayden Ballantyne. The Dockers also need more consistency from forward Cam McCarthy, who showed promise after missing the whole 2016 season, but needs to take on a complementary role next to Fyfe. Shane Kersten kicked 24 goals, too, but also suffered from inconsistency.

The Dockers don’t seem to have a realistic chance at playing AFL Finals in 2018, but they’re more than capable of springing a few upsets along the way. Like Carlton, they need more time to rebuild, revamp, and let the youth develop.


#13 — St Kilda Saints

  • 2017 RECORD: 12-10
  • COACH: Alan Richardson, 5th year (22-43-1)
  • CAPTAIN: Jarryn Geary
  • HOME GROUND: Etihad Stadium (capacity 53,583)
  • TRAINING GROUND: Moorabbin Oval
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Logan Austin
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Joe Baker-Thomas, Nick Coughlan, Sean Dempster, Jason Holmes, Leigh Montagna, Nick O’Kearney, Nick Riewoldt
  • BIGGEST 2017 WIN: Round 16 vs Richmond (67-point W)
  • WORST 2017 LOSS: Round 19 at Port Adelaide (2-point L)

The Saints barely missed the Finals in 2017, fading down the stretch. It was a tough pill to swallow for St Kilda fans, who haven’t been to the postseason since 2009 and also wanted to send off retiring legends Nick Riewoldt and Leigh Montagna off on a high note. Kicking inaccuracy was a major concern, even though the Saints found some new talent in the forward line that can help them in the post-Riewoldt years.

Midfielder Sebastian Ross came out of obscurity to win St Kilda’s best-and-fairest, averaging over 22 disposals per game. Jarryn Geary also proved his worth in his first season as the Saints’ captain, starting every game. However, Jade Gresham and Jack Billings both had well-documented kicking woes in big games, costing St Kilda towards the end of the year. The Saints also need a big year from forward Paddy McCartin, who was hampered by a sprained foot in the offseason.

Getting 22-year-old defender Logan Austin from Port Adelaide in free agency should help bolster the Saints’ backline, which also returns rising star Dylan Roberton and veteran Jake Carlisle. However, the Saints need to develop a clear identity after the losses of Riewoldt and Montagna, and recover from a heartbreaking finish to 2017. It’s hard to see this team push any further than where they finished last season.


#12 — Collingwood Magpies

  • 2017 RECORD: 9-12-1
  • COACH: Nathan Buckley, 7th year (70-65-1)
  • CAPTAIN: Scott Pendlebury
  • HOME GROUND: Melbourne Cricket Ground (capacity 100,018)
  • TRAINING GROUND: Holden Centre
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Sam Murray
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Lachlan Keeffe, Liam Mackie, Mitch McCarthy, Jackson Ramsey, Henry Schade, Ben Sinclair, Jesse White
  • BIGGEST 2017 WIN: Round 5 vs Geelong (29-point W)
  • WORST 2017 LOSS: Round 6 vs Carlton (23-point L)

It was another underachieving year for the Pies, but despite grumbling from the faithful, the club elected to give coach Nathan Buckley a three-year extension. While the Pies showed some resolve down the stretch in 2017, despite injury issues, they were out of Finals contention by the final month of the season.

Some of the year’s bright spots were in the midfield, where tough-as-nails skipper Scott Pendlebury and best-and-fairest winner Steele Sidebottom were a terrific tandem. Brodie Grundy secured a full-time role as the Pies’ ruckman, although he also showed plenty of aptitude as a key forward. In Collingwood’s surprising win over Melbourne in the season finale, coaches experimented with having Grundy in the ruck with his backup, American big man Mason Cox, up forward, with exciting results. Cox got a new contract in the offseason, so there’s plenty of size for Pies fans to like heading into 2018.

High-flying forward Jeremy Howe drew plenty of highlights in 2017 for his marking ability. In addition to Grundy’s emergence as a rising star, the two biggest reasons for the Pies to be optimistic are forward Jamie Elliott (34 goals) and youngster Taylor Adams. However, fans will be crossing their fingers on Jordan De Goey, who missed the early part of the 2017 season due to a bizarre suspension, and Darcy Moore, a gifted forward whom the Pies are experimenting with in defense.

There’s still a lot of work to be done consistency-wise. High-priced free agent Chris Mayne was bitterly disappointing in his first go-round with Collingwood, and the team lacks depth in a lot of areas. Dropping close games was an issue in 2017, with the Pies losing to Greater Western Sydney and Melbourne by a combined seven points. They didn’t do much in free agency to bolster depth either.

Give Collingwood credit for not throwing in the towel during an up-and-down 2017 season, but they don’t quite seem to have the defense or the depth to make a Finals berth for the first time since 2013.


#11 — Western Bulldogs

  • 2017 RECORD: 11-11
  • COACH: Luke Beveridge, 4th year (38-16)
  • CAPTAIN: Easton Wood
  • HOME GROUND: Etihad Stadium (capacity 53,583)
  • TRAINING GROUND: Whitten Oval
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Hayden Crozier, Jackson Trengove
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Matthew Boyd, Travis Cloke, Stewart Crameri, Declan Hamilton, Robert Murphy, Josh Prudden, Roarke Smith, Jake Stringer, Tristan Tweedie
  • BIGGEST 2017 WIN: Round 19 vs Essendon (30-point W)
  • WORST 2017 LOSS: Round 13 vs Melbourne (57-point L)

Many knocked the Bulldogs’ 2016 AFL premiership as a fluke, and they turned out to be right. The Dogs suffered through a mediocre season, missing out on the 2017 Finals altogether. Their style of play lacked urgency, and they dealt with plenty of injuries, too. While some star players such as Marcus Bontempelli, Liam Picken, and Easton Wood continued their excellent form, others fell off completely.

As disappointing as the 2017 season was, the Bulldogs appear ready to dust themselves off and regroup for 2018 under fifth-year coach Luke Beveridge. The offseason was marred by unhappy star Jake Stringer signing with Essendon, but the Dogs did reel in two notable free agents, versatile Hayden Crozier and former Port Adelaide gun Jackson Trengove. They also grabbed talented youngster Josh Schache, who had recently re-signed with the Brisbane Lions but had issues with homesickness and wanted to go back to Victoria. Schache oozes talent and should blossom under the Dogs’ coaching staff.

On the backline, keep an eye on young gun Marcus Adams, who replaced the injured Dale Morris in 2017 and had his moments. Versatile defender/midfielder Lin Jong also returns after playing in only 12 games last season due to injury.

Beveridge’s teams typically don’t stay down for long, and there’s reason to believe the Dogs can bounce back in 2018.



#10 — Hawthorn Hawks

  • 2017 RECORD: 10-11-1
  • COACH: Alastair Clarkson, 14th year (190-113-2)
  • CAPTAIN: Jarryd Roughead
  • HOME GROUND: Melbourne Cricket Ground (capacity 100,018)
  • ALTERNATE/NEUTRAL GROUND: York Park, Launceston (capacity 20,000)
  • TRAINING GROUND: Waverley Park
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Jarman Impey
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Jack Fitzpatrick, Josh Gibson, Billy Hartung, Luke Hodge, Kade Stewart, Luke Surman, Ty Vickery, Dallas Willsmore
  • BIGGEST 2017 WIN: Round 14 at Adelaide (14-point W)
  • WORST 2017 LOSS: Round 3 at Gold Coast (86-point L)

The Hawks suffered through a mediocre start to the season and never fully recovered, buried beneath an avalanche of injuries and erratic form to finish outside of the Finals for the first time since 2009.

Still, legendary coach Alastair Clarkson deserves some credit for sticking with an untested group of players who took many lumps early on, but improved down the stretch. Chief among that group was former Sydney standout Tom Mitchell, who led the AFL in disposals per game en route to winning Hawthorn’s best and fairest honors in his first year at the club. Inspirational captain Jarryd Roughead made a return in 2017 following a melanoma scare and kicked 38 goals, leading the team.

However, the Hawks’ biggest free agent addition, Jaeger O’Meara, managed only six games following a series of injuries, contributing to the lack of experienced depth in the Hawks’ midfield and forcing Mitchell to carry a disproportionate load. Hawthorn also lost sensational small forward Cyril Rioli to a knee injury, and his impact was sorely felt. (As of press time, Rioli’s rehab was going well, but he hadn’t yet reported for offseason training after being granted compassionate leave due to a family crisis in Alice Springs.)

There are several other bright spots among the playing group that give fans hope for a return to Finals action in 2018 — Ryan Burton is one of the AFL’s most promising young defenders, and fearless small forward Paul Puopolo booted 19 goals last year in Rioli’s absence. Coaches are also excited about young Irishman Conor Nash, who boasts plenty of potential, and ruckman Ben McEvoy, who is coming off a career-best season.

The fiery Clarkson won’t let his team settle for second-best, so there’s a good chance that Hawthorn could creep back into postseason action come fall.


#9 — West Coast Eagles

  • 2017 RECORD: 12-10
  • COACH: Adam Simpson, 5th year (55-32-1)
  • CAPTAIN: Shannon Hurn
  • HOME GROUND: Optus Stadium (capacity 60,000)
  • TRAINING GROUND: Lathlain Park
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Brendon Ah Chee
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Paddy Brophy, Sam Butler, Jonathan Giles, Tom Gorter, Josh Hill, Tom Lamb, Sam Mitchell, Drew Petrie, Matt Priddis, Jordan Snadden, Simon Tunbridge, Sharrod Wellingham
  • BIGGEST 2017 WIN: Round 13 vs Geelong (13-win W)
  • WORST 2017 LOSS: Round 5 at Hawthorn (51-point L)

Although their 2017 season was an up-and-down affair, the Eagles used a strong finish to reach the Finals and secure a thrilling win in the qualifying final over Port Adelaide. Adam Simpson’s club is going into the 2018 season with some solid momentum, buoyed by the return of superstar ruckman Nic Naitanui, who missed all of 2017 with a torn ACL. However, the Eagles also have to deal with the retirement losses of Sam Mitchell, Matt Priddis, and Drew Petrie.

Midfielder Luke Shuey, defender Elliot Yeo, and forward Josh Kennedy give West Coast three talented leaders in each major position grouping, and they’ll be boosted by the addition of speedy Brendon Ah Chee, a West Australia native who was most recently at Port Adelaide.

The Eagles always seem to be a tough and well-disciplined side, but they need to win more on the road and have more luck on the injury front in order to be a true contender. The hope is that Naitanui’s return, plus an influx of young talent, can push West Coast closer to a preliminary final in 2018.



#8 — Melbourne Demons

  • 2017 RECORD: 12-10
  • COACH: Simon Goodwin, 2nd year (12-10)
  • CAPTAINS: Jack Viney/Nathan Jones
  • HOME GROUND: Melbourne Cricket Ground (capacity 100,018)
  • ALTERNATE GROUNDS: TIO Stadium, Darwin (capacity 12,500), Traeger Park, Alice Springs (capacity 10,000)
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Harley Balic
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Colin Garland, Liam Hulett, Ben Kennedy, Heritier Lumumba, Jake Spencer, Jack Trengove, Jack Watts, Mitch White
  • BIGGEST 2017 WIN: Round 8 at Adelaide (41-point W)
  • WORST 2017 LOSS: Round 23 vs Collingwood (16-point L)

It was all there for the taking, and Melbourne blew it. The Demons just needed to beat a mediocre Collingwood team in the 2017 season finale to secure their first Finals berth since 2006, but they lost, and then West Coast beat Adelaide, meaning that the Dees’ streak will continue. Most embarrassingly, the club had already mailed out finals packages to season ticket holders before the loss.

However, there’s still plenty to like here in 2018, which will be coach Simon Goodwin’s second season. After an emotionally trying year that involved the death of his father and testicular cancer treatments, forward Jesse Hogan still kicked 20 goals in the 10 games he played. Small forward Jeff Garlett also led the Dees with 42 goals.

Melbourne also boasts one of the AFL’s speediest midfields, led by youngsters Christian Petracca, Jack Viney, Bernie Vince, and Nathan Jones. Ruckman Max Gawn is one of the AFL’s toughest, while the mercurial Clayton Oliver averaged 30 disposals per game and earned his first best-and-fairest win at the ripe young age of 20. Meanwhile, All-Australians Michael Hibberd and Neville Jetta anchor down the backline, which will also be bolstered by prized free agent addition Jake Lever from Adelaide.

If they can avoid the injury bug, Melbourne can remain in the thick of the Finals conversation, but there’s no more excuses. A year older and wiser, the Dees must win in 2018 in order to keep Goodwin from getting closer to the hot seat.


#7 — Essendon Bombers

  • 2017 RECORD: 12-10
  • COACH: John Worsfold, 3rd year (15-29)
  • CAPTAIN: Dyson Heppell
  • HOME GROUND: Melbourne Cricket Ground (capacity 100,018)
  • TRAINING GROUND: True Value Solar Centre
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Adam Saad, Devon Smith, Jake Stringer
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Craig Bird, Yestin Eades, Heath Hocking, Ben Howlett, James Kelly, Alex Morgan, Brent Stanton, Jobe Watson
  • BIGGEST 2017 WIN: Round 8 vs Geelong (17-point W) 
  • WORST 2017 LOSS: Round 15 vs Brisbane (8-point L)

The Bombers crawled out of the rubble of their drug supplements saga (and related suspensions) and made the big leap back to the Finals after a tumultuous 2016 season, but they need to keep their focus in big games in order to take the next step forward.

Some of the bright young talent that was thrown into the fire in ’16 and blossomed in ’17 were midfielder Darcy Parish and crafty small forward Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti. Versatile youngster Orazio Fantasia booted 39 goals, while McDonald-Tipungwuti kicked 34 of his own.

In addition to the youth, several other Bombers who missed the 2016 season due to suspension returned and showed little rust. All- Australian defender Michael Hurley averaged over seven intercept marks and 25 disposals per game, ruckman Tom Bellchambers was solid, and Cale Hooker and Joe Daniher were possibly the best forward duo in the AFL (106 combined goals).

The Dons also made significant splashes in the offseason by pulling in three major free agents: Adam Saad (Gold Coast), Devon Smith (Greater Western Sydney), and Jake Stringer (Western Bulldogs). Saad is a speedy defender who can be lethal off the intercept marks, while Smith and Stringer are two classy midfielders who are prized for their toughness and consistency. If all three can stay healthy, they’ll be playing important roles in 2018.

While fans were understandably disappointed in the early Finals exit, there’s plenty of talent left over for the Dons to make another run.


#6 — Sydney Swans

  • 2017 RECORD: 14-8
  • COACH: John Longmire, 8th year (103-45-2)
  • CAPTAIN: Josh Kennedy
  • HOME GROUND: Sydney Cricket Ground (capacity 48,000)
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Shaun Edwards, Sam Fisher, Brandon Jack, Tyrone Leonardis, Jeremy Laidler, Sam Murray, Michael Talia
  • BIGGEST 2017 WIN: Round 20 at Geelong (46-point W)
  • WORST 2017 LOSS: Round 5 vs GWS (42-point L)

The Swans bounced back after a horrific first month of 2017, becoming the first AFL team in history to start 0-6 but still make the Finals. On the back of Coleman Medalist Buddy Franklin and his 73 goals, Sydney won 14 of their final 16 games to qualify for postseason action.

In addition to Franklin’s sensational form, the Swans also boast some talented midfielders, namely best-and-fairest winner Luke Parker and team captain Josh Kennedy. Coaches are also very excited about youngsters Oliver Florent and Will Hayward. Both small forwards, they struggled with injuries last season. With more seasoning, they could develop into some needed threats up forward to take pressure off of Franklin.

A well-coached side, the Swans always seem to have the depth and talent to withstand the injury bug, but they need everything to go right in 2018 in order to have a shot at a preliminary final. The team was quiet in free agency, too, and the Swans hope that their youngsters can continue to develop and be consistent contributors heading forward.



#5 — Port Adelaide Power

  • 2017 RECORD: 14-8
  • COACH: Ken Hinkley, 6th year (65-50)
  • CAPTAIN: Travis Boak
  • HOME GROUND: Adelaide Oval (capacity 53,583)
  • TRAINING GROUND: Alberton Oval
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Trent McKenzie, Steven Motlop, Tom Rockliff, Jack Trengove, Jack Watts
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Brendon Ah Chee, Logan Austin, Brett Eddy, Jarman Impey, Nathan Krakouer, Matthew Lobbe, Angus Monfries, Jesse Palmer, Jackson Trengove, Matthew White, Aaron Young
  • BIGGEST 2017 WIN: Round 8 vs Hawthorn (51-point W)
  • WORST 2017 LOSS: Round 20 vs Adelaide (84-point L)

After a mediocre 2016 campaign, the Power responded with a Finals berth in 2017, although their lack of quality wins against better opponents showed, culminating in a heartbreaking after-the-siren loss to West Coast in the elimination final. However, Port responded by making several big splashes in the free agency period and expectations remain high for this group in 2018.

All-Australian ruckman Paddy Ryder showed career-best form last season, proving the skeptics wrong, while skipper Travis Boak and hard-charging midfielder Robbie Gray continued to show outstanding leadership.

Former Gold Coast sun Trent McKenzie will look to fill the defensive void left by the departed Logan Austin, while ex-Melbourne Demon Jack Watts will move into a midfield role. Talented forward Steven Motlop is hoping to take advantage of a fresh start after falling out of favor at Geelong. A forward/midfielder, Motlop looks to bolster an attack that already includes hot-shot youngster Sam Powell-Pepper (16 goals) and the sensational Charlie Dixon (49 goals).

If the Power can get all of their new faces to mesh well, they’ll have a chance to make a run in the postseason again if they stay healthy. But Port needs to be able to handle both higher expectations and tougher opponents on the big stage if they hope to push for a premiership.


#4 — Richmond Tigers

  • 2017 RECORD: 15-7
  • COACH: Damien Hardwick, 9th year (92-88-2)
  • CAPTAIN: Trent Cotchin
  • HOME GROUND: Melbourne Cricket Ground (capacity 100,018)
  • TRAINING GROUND: Punt Road Oval
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Jake Batchelor, Todd Elton, Taylor Hunt, Ben Lennon, Ivan Maric, Steven Morris, Chris Yarran
  • BIGGEST 2017 WIN: Grand Final vs Adelaide (48-point W)
  • WORST 2017 LOSS: Round 16 vs St Kilda (67-point L)

Can Richmond avoid the dreaded premiership hangover? The Tigers claimed their first AFL Grand Final in 37 years last fall, shocking Adelaide with their high-octane, pressuring attack and using their relative lack of size to their advantage on the scoreboard.

Brownlow Medallist Dustin Martin returns to the side in 2018, as do leading goalkicker Jack Riewoldt (54) and young Finals sensations Jack Graham and Daniel Rioli, although the latter is coming off a broken foot. Halfback Brandon Ellis, ruckman Toby Nankervis, and midfielders Trent Cotchin and Dion Prestia are also still in the mix, hoping to maintain the positive momentum after a historic year.

However, the Tigers are unlikely to sneak up on anybody again and will need to continue to play with a chip on their shoulder if they are to defend their flag. Richmond needs to get consistent play from the forward line and apply enough on-ball pressure once more in order to give themselves a chance to stake a claim for another deep postseason run.




#3 — Geelong Cats

  • 2017 RECORD: 15-6-1
  • COACH: Chris Scott,
  • CAPTAIN: Joel Selwood, 8th year (102-39-1)
  • HOME GROUND: Kardinia Park (capacity 36,000)
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Gary Ablett Jr.
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Josh Cowan, Matthew Hayball, Darcy Lang, Tom Lonergan, Andrew Mackie, Steven Motlop, Tom Ruggles
  • BIGGEST 2017 WIN: Round 23 vs GWS (44-point W)
  • WORST 2017 LOSS: Round 6 at Collingwood (29-point L)

The prodigal son returns.

Veteran superstar and two-time Brownlow Medalist Gary Ablett Jr. has returned to “the Cattery” after a six-year absence with the Gold Coast Suns. Now happy and in better physical condition, the speedy Ablett is ready to begin competing for premierships with Geelong again.

Ablett joins a courageous group of athletes who have been disappointed the past two years due to heartbreaking Finals defeats. Captain Joel Selwood will need to rally the troops and cross fingers that the Cats’ depth is strong enough after the retirement losses of Andrew Mackie and Tom Lonergan. Geelong also bid farewell to the talented-but-inconsistent duo of Steven Motlop and Darcy Lang, who departed for Port Adelaide and Carlton, respectively.

There’s still plenty of room to improve and lots of talent to work with, and coach Chris Scott likes what he’s been seeing from his leadership group in the offseason. Much attention will be given to the terrific trio of Selwood, Ablett, and Patrick Dangerfield, but don’t forget about versatile veterans like Mitch Duncan (12.8 disposals per game) and Tom Hawkins (51 goals). Geelong will still need consistent play for promising youngster Nakia Cockatoo, who oozes talent but has had trouble staying healthy (only 11 games in 2017). The Cats are also looking to expand the role of halfback Zach Tuohy, a former Gaelic footballer who impressed in his first season with the club after being traded from Carlton.



#2 — Greater Western Sydney Giants

  • 2017 RECORD: 14-6-2
  • COACH: Leon Cameron, 5th year (49-42-2)
  • CAPTAINS: Phil Davis/Callan Ward
  • HOME GROUND: Spotless Stadium (capacity 25,000)
  • TRAINING GROUND: Tom Wills Oval
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Lachlan Keeffe
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Tom Downie, Steve Johnson, Matt Kennedy, Shane Mumford, Tendai Mzungu, Joel Patfull, Sam Reid, Devon Smith, Nathan Wilson
  • BIGGEST 2017 WIN: Round 5 vs Sydney (42-point W)
  • WORST 2017 LOSS: Round 7 vs St Kilda (23-point L)

The Giants ended up being the bridesmaid once again, losing for the second consecutive year in the preliminary final to the eventual AFL champion. The season looked to be set up for a fairytale ending before injuries took their toll down the stretch. However, there’s still plenty of talent left over for GWS to make a run once more in coach Leon Cameron’s fifth season at the club.

Despite the free agent losses of midfielder Devon Smith (Essendon) and defender Nathan Wilson (Fremantle), the Giants still look to have an excellent starting 22. Re-signing prized midfielder Josh Kelly was a huge deal, and the ruckman combination of Dawson Simpson and Rory Lobb should be solid replacements for the retired Shane Mumford.

The forward group of Jonathon Patton, Toby Greene, and Jeremy Cameron — all of whom kicked 45 goals apiece last season — should help make up for the loss of heart-and-soul playmaker Steve Johnson. It’ll help even more if the mercurial Greene can stay out of trouble after suffering two suspensions for aggressive play in 2017.

Dylan Shiel, Callan Ward, and Tom Scully are excellent in the midfield, and the depth will be bolstered if Stephen Coniglio and Brett Deledio can make it through 2018 injury-free. With Wilson gone, look for youngsters like Nick Haynes and Aidan Corr to be featured more in the backline, as well as former Collingwood player Lachlan Keeffe.


#1 — Adelaide Crows

  • 2017 RECORD: 15-6-1
  • COACH: Don Pyke, 3rd year (38-16-1)
  • CAPTAIN: Taylor Walker
  • HOME GROUND: Adelaide Oval (capacity 53,583)
  • TRAINING GROUND: Football Park
  • KEY ADDITIONS: Bryce Gibbs
  • KEY DEPARTURES: Jonathon Beech, Charlie Cameron, Dean Gore, Jake Lever, Troy Menzel, Sam Shaw, Scott Thompson, Harrison Wigg
  • BIGGEST 2017 WIN: Round 20 vs Port Adelaide (84-point W)
  • WORST 2017 LOSS: Grand Final vs Richmond (48-point L)

The Crows don’t stay down for long, but one has to wonder how their embarrassing Grand Final loss to Richmond will reverberate to the 2018 season. The club also has to find quality replacements for talented on-baller Charlie Cameron, who left for the Brisbane Lions to be closer to family, and Jake Lever, one of the league’s best defenders who departed for the Demons in free-agency.

Thankfully, the Crows still have an excellent midfield, headlined by the talented brother duo of Brad and Matt Crouch. Former basketball convert Hugh Greenwood impressed in his first full season of AFL action, prized addition Bryce Gibbs arrived from Carlton in November, and All-Australian Rory Sloane looks to continue his classy form in 2018.

The forward duo of Eddie Betts (55 goals) and Mitch McGovern (20) should be able to keep Adelaide in every game, but the Crows need to show premiership-winning material down the stretch in order to prove that they’re truly elite.

The Believer (2001)


A young Jewish man grapples with his own identity as a member of a violent skinhead group.

Danny Balint (Ryan Gosling) is a neo-Nazi. He’s also Jewish.

Inspired by true events, The Believer centers around Danny, a young New Yorker who consciously rejects his childhood beliefs and culture and embraces the twisted philosophies of the Third Reich. While he hangs around a local group of skinheads and gets into plenty of twisted mischief on his own, Danny also attempts to defend his beliefs intellectually to like-minded people, including at the home of a professor, Curtis Zampf (Billy Zane) and fellow academic Lina Moebius (Theresa Russell). At the meeting, they are both impressed with Danny’s intelligence and charisma but disagree with his extreme approach.

Unbeknownst to Danny, a reporter, Guy Danielsen (A.D. Miles), was at the meeting and contacts Danny for an interview. Danielsen has been researching far-right hate groups and invites Danny for coffee to pick his brain. During their meeting, Danny delves into his own twisted worldview but threatens to commit suicide after Danielsen reveals Danny as Jewish.

Along the way, Danny develops an intimate relationship with Carla, Lina’s daughter (Summer Phoenix) and also begins to deal with long-repressed feelings about his Jewish upbringing. Growing up in synagogue, Danny frequently interpreted Scripture in an unorthodox manner (drawing the ire of the rabbis) and has since concluded that God is a bully. However, as time goes on, Danny begins to question his own racist beliefs, wrestling with his own conscience. His relationship with Carla further complicates matters, as does Stuart (Dean Strober), an old friend from Hebrew school whom Danny reconnects with by chance.


The Believer is a cinematic obscurity. Directed by veteran screenwriter (but first-time director) Henry Bean, the film’s subject matter was considering so shocking that it didn’t even get an American theatrical release back in 2001 — due to fear of censorship and condemnation from Jewish media groups, The Believer was instead released via the Showtime network and then promptly disappeared off the radar.

However, The Believer was a smashing success among critics, earning an 87% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and taking home hardware at Sundance, Cannes and the Moscow International Film Festival.

Bean, who was raised as a Conservative Jew in Philadelphia, drew upon the real-life story of neo-Nazi Dan Burros, who committed suicide after being revealed as Jewish by a New York Times reporter in the 1960s. With a minuscule budget ($1.5 million), Bean decided to cast a former child actor from Canada who had never been a leading man before — Ryan Gosling.


Well before he became A-list material via starring roles in The NotebookLars and the Real GirlDrive, and La La Land, Gosling was a scrawny 18-year-old struggling to gain mainstream acceptance following a brief career as a child star on The Mickey Mouse Club. I’ve long been a fan of his work in general, but in The Believer, the young Gosling simply owns the screen. Many years later, Gosling looked back at the film and stated that it “gift-wrapped” the career that he now has.

The Believer occupies a unique place in film history. As opposed to other movies dealing with racist gangs (American History X and Romper Stomper come to mind), there’s not much violence. The themes and Danny Balint’s ideology are both what make this film so unsettling — and what makes Gosling’s performance so brilliant. Well before he played tortured, violent men in indie flicks like Drive and Only God Forgives, Gosling broke out with an outstanding, complex performance — in a film, that, unfortunately, nobody saw at the time.

(Intriguing side note: Bean specifically chose Gosling due to his religious upbringing. Gosling was raised Mormon growing up in Ontario, and Bean felt that this background would help Gosling understand the isolation of Judaism.)

I’ll give The Believer credit, simply because it doesn’t rely on added shock value via excessive violence or disturbing images, instead choosing to take an intellectual approach, all while dealing with Danny’s inner demons and showing his willingness to wrestle with hard questions. With that being said, some elements of the film, particularly in the third act, feel like they skim the surface a bit too much and don’t necessarily focus on the real philosophy behind the choices that are made. Ultimately though, The Believer isn’t just a provocative little shocker — it’s able to rise above its disturbing subject matter and look at the big picture in a way that few movies do.

Grade: B

  • Written and directed by Henry Bean
  • Story by Henry Bean & Mark Jacobson
  • Produced by Susan Hoffman and Christopher Roberts
  • Director of Photography — Jim Denault
  • Music by Joel Diamond
  • Edited by Mayin Lo and Lee Percy
  • Starring Ryan Gosling, Billy Zane, Summer Phoenix, Theresa Russell, A.D. Miles, Glenn Fitzgerald, Dean Strober, Elizabeth Reaser, Ronald Guttman, Heather Goldenhersh
  • Rated R for strong violence, language, and some sexual content