Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 12, 2003 9:19 am 
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Hard and fast -- but not quite fast enough

The Hard Word introduces us to Dale, Shane, and Mal Twentyman, three brothers Down Under and all in the same jail. Through their crooked lawyer Frank (Robert Taylor) they all get released the same day to do a heist the lawyer has arranged for them. They succeed, but then get thrown back in jail again, with the lawyer keeping the swag. He's also got Dale's (Guy Pearce's) wife. The gall of this Frank! Why do they put up with this?

The wife, Carol, played by "Six Feet Under's" Rachel Griffiths, would be great if she didn't look so much like Laura Dern played by a man in drag: but she's hard all right. The wonderfully lean Pearce, happy, it would be seem, to be working back home (and none too concerned if the job has some rough edges) plays with a grungy panache that's smooth and understated. He and the actors playing his brothers Shane (Joel Edgerton) and Mal (Damien Richardson) are all plainly having a lot of fun, which viewers can't help but share.

It's not really about verisimilitude so much as it's about that fun, and the surprise twists, and secret language among intimates. You don't remember that first heist, though you may remember how bloody the next one gets when it goes wrong, how spectacularly bold the setting is (the Melbourne Cup award celebration) and the cow museum where the swag gets hidden. But the continuity and suspense are not strong elements, if indeed they exist. The standout moments are just that – moments -- such as when the three first get out and order a meal and the powerful and rage-prone Shane has a fit because his fries are curled instead of straight and he's given a Coke instead of a Pepsi; or when the same Shane gets a lady counselor for his anger problem and makes love to her in the jail reception room.

You've rarely seen the rug chewed up with such zest. Edgerton overacts outrageously, but he makes it a lot of fun to watch. Brother Mal is a butcher practicing his trade in prison, and that leads to some fairly crude running jokes, to coin a phrase. He's shy, but women fall all over him. Pearce, as mentioned, is all sly knowingness and appealing leonine sleaze and that makes him a nice contrast to his brothers and sets him up clearly as the brain of the family. But somehow the screenplay doesn't quite let him have a fully realized character, perhaps because for all his smarts he lets the three of them be walked over by Frank and Carol. (Carol does, however, prove loyal at the end. And Frank does, indeed, have a fitting fate.)

This movie has many enjoyable moments. But as this description already shows, it's a collection of riffs rather than a coherent whole; for all the juicy dialogue and colorful characterizations and quirky scenes, it doesn't have enough momentum, excitement, or suspense going for it for a crime story.

And when you think about it, none of it makes much sense. How could the three crooks get out of jail to do that job, and then land right back in? If they're such competent robbers that they can take all the winnings of the Melbourne Cup even when an unnecessary sadistic accomplice ('Tarzan,' Dorian Nkono) makes the scene go horribly wrong and totally violates their motto, 'Nobody gets hurt,' why would they let Frank screw them over and over? And how indeed could they have even begun to rob the Melbourne Cup with such minimal preparation?

The authorities are alerted, and they flee on foot: how is it that they get away with huge trash bags full of cash? And how come the three brothers wind up running a resort hideaway if Frank later picked up the swag? And finally, how could Frank come and propose another, bigger job after double-crossing them twice big time?

After his successful international choices, notably LA Confidential and Memento, I guess Guy Pearce thought he'd enjoy doing something lower-keyed back home. And he did. And he didn't make too bad a choice. But he didn't hit it lucky, either. This will appeal to Guy Ritchie fans. It will also awaken memories of Fifties and Sixties English crime movies. Robert Taylor as Frank makes a B Picture bad guy with a fake tan and generic suits.

©Chris Knipp 2003

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