You really don't want to piss off the Montebello family

“Our business is about minimizing risk, Noel. Be tough, when it counts.” Harry Montebello (Brian Cox) is not a man to be trifled with. Everyone’s afraid of Harry. With good reason.

The latest drama from ABC1 The Straits delivers a uniquely Australian drama set in Cairns, the Top End – particularly the ficticious Zey Island – & Papua New Guinea, and opens a story of mixed culture, honour among theives and Underbelly-esque violence and intrigue. The characters are fresh and real, and the script offers strong roles to the entire cast (who’ve all clearly made the roles their own). The gentle turqoise waters offer a wonderful counterpoint to the darkness that happens around them.

The Montebello clan have run drugs and guns in the Top End for years. Harry set up the business using his smarts and Kitty’s islander contacts and it’s run smoothly until now. Harry & Kitty couldn’t have kids so they adopted four of them, back in the day – they all help run the family business now. Harry breaks with the tradition of handing the business off to his eldest son Noel (Aaron Fa’Aoso) and opens the challenge to all the kids: “You want it. You earn it.” Marou (Jimi Bani), Gary (Firass Dirani) & Sissy (Suzannah Bayes-Morton) all know their place and that Noel should get it (“that Dad’s making Noel prove it”), but the pressures around them force each of their hands differently. Is Marou the better man for the job? Does Gary need some straightening out? What has Sissi found in the family books?

It all seems so beautiful and innocent

From the sweeping shots of Cairns and Cape York, the authentic characters of The Straits reflect crime in a way that’s almost relaxing. It’s too hot for too much effort, so everyone just tries to work it all out. When push comes to shove, the Montebellos aren’t ones to step away from a fight. Noel’s estranged wife & kids become a target, but that’s soon sorted out. The tropical way. It’s brutal and it gets the message across. When you’re in the crime game, everyone has their secrets and everyone is very good at lying about them.

Aside from a stellar central cast, the supporting cast are excellent. Kim Gyngell (Paddy) and Andy Anderson (Vince) are spot on in helping the family with their day-to-day dealings (dog stairs, anyone?); Kate Jenkinson (Antoinette) is tough and wrung out as Noel’s estranged wife (if you can’t place her, Jenkinson was part of the ensemble cast for Thank God You’re Here); and Emma Lung (Lola) offers a charming diversion as Manou’s scheming wife.

The Straits is superb television. Cox & Owen are superbly cast as the patriarch & matriarch of this Australian crime family, as are the rest of the Montebello clan. Another example of strong, well-packaged Aussie drama that sets a new standard from national broadcaster. The Straits will surely be on your must watch list in 2012.

The Straits – starts Thu 02/02 8:30pm, ABC1.
Repeats Fri 03/02 10:30pm, ABC2.