Dirty Deeds is a loud, colourfully vulgar story about the Sydney underworld circa 1969.Two Chicago mafia men (John Goodman, Felix Williamson) want to muscle in on a neatly profitable poker machine scam run by Barry Ryan (Bryan Brown). Ryan’s nephew, Darcy (Sam Worthington), returns from the Vietnam War around the same time. He’s aware that the world is changing and wants a part of it, but he also knows Australia’s still lagging behind the action.
David Caesar’s direction is as brash and bold as his writing is deft. There are groovy split screens aplenty - Caesar and cinematographer Geoffrey Hall recall the look of films contemporary to 1969, like Norman Jewison’s The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). The storylines neatly dovetail, but I found the ending overly schematic. Dirty Deeds is often very funny, and there’s a playfulness behind the garish 60s costume (Tess Schofield) and production design (Chris Kennedy).
All the performances are excellent, without startling. Among the older generation, Brown is commanding, Toni Collette hilarious as his no-nonsense wife and Sam Neill amusingly laidback as a corrupt cop. Sam Worthington delivers on the star promise of Bootmen (after a wasted role in Hart’s War) and Kestie Morassi is likeable in her first film role.Although Dirty Deeds is a lot more polished and accomplished than The Hard Word, I didn’t feel as involved with the characters. None of them are lovable losers; everyone’s wise to what they want and calculating enough to go after it. Which may be more realistic for people part of, or circling, the criminal subculture but it’s also distancing.