This absorbing sports documentary could have been great but needs a much longer runtime to really do justice to its subject.
Amazon original documentary Warriors on the Field will be out on the streaming service on July 8, 2022.
The promise of sport is that it tends to be (mostly) a meritocracy where regardless of race, heritage, or belief, anyone who is talented enough, and hard-working enough is able to ascend to the very top of their field. Sport can unite us and offer us a chance to come together to celebrate our shared humanity. However, there can be no denying that for many communities, that has not always been the case, with access to the elite sport being disgracefully denied to many.
Warriors on the Field explores the complex legacy of racism towards Indigenous people in Australia through the lens of the AFL (that’s Aussie Rules Football, for the uninitiated).
The documentary follows three AFL players, Michael O’Loughlin, Michael Walters and Tarryn Thomas, a mixture of trailblazing legend and up and coming hopefuls in the sport. It tells its wider story through their experiences. All three players share a common heritage and seemingly childhood experiences of being obsessed with the sport, breaking windows and dealing with persistent racism, starting at even at the junior level of the sport.
It is O’Loughlin that we spend the majority of our time with, a now-retired legend of the sport, and it is through him that we are introduced to the other players, his family and his heritage. He is a likeable guide, clearly a man in touch with his community and committed to improving inclusion in his sport, both at his club the Sydney Swans and in the wider game.
As a UK-based reviewer I am not a huge AFL fan, and to be honest, have only limited exposure to the game. I am, however, a sport fan so I am predisposed to like this sort of feature. Good sports docs tend to understand that sport is a brilliant metaphor for the rest of life; where ideas like victory and defeat, elation and despair play out in microcosm. On rare occasions, films manage to transcend this and tell an important, wider story, using sport as a vehicle to confront more challenging subject matter. I’m not quite sure Warriors on the Field manages to reach this standard, but it’s clear that is the ambition.
Warriors on the Field does well to blend its central story, First Nations people in Australia and the endemic racism so many have had to face, with the usual highlight reel of an exciting and demanding sport. I came away from watching it feeling as though I had learnt a lot about both, and wanted to dig deeper.
Where Warriors on the Field falls short, is in matching its ambition with its scope. This is a short piece, only around 50 minutes long. Telling the story of racism in Australia towards Indigenous People, and how that has manifested and is gradually changing in the AFL is a tall order. Doing it in 50 minutes whilst also weaving in biographies of three individual players feels impossible.
As a result of the truncated runtime, it feels like a lot of interesting threads are only really half pulled. Key ideas are left introduced and then discarded just as quickly. I would have loved to see a two-hour version of this or even a three-part series that gets the opportunity to really explore the complexity of its subject matter as well giving us a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the people involved.
Overall, Warriors on the Field tells an important story likably and thought-provokingly, however it does not quite give itself the space to really do it justice.
What did you think of the Amazon original documentary Warriors on the Field? Comment below.