Hard Word, The

Reviewed By Stephen Groenewegen
Posted 05/29/02 20:09:55

"The good oil"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Thereís a dated feel to the robbery-gone-wrong plot of The Hard Word, as if writer-director Scott Roberts has wanted to make this film for a long time (itís his directorial debut). But the comic performances, off-kilter tone and crackling script keep it fresh.

Guy Pearce - with lanky hair, unkempt beard, jutting chin and stretched vowels - is Dale Twentyman, the eldest and most sensible of three criminal brothers. Mal is the middle sibling and, as played by Damien Richardson, heís sweet natured but dim. Joel Edgerton, usually cast to add warmth to an ensemble, is terrific as the heavily muscled livewire Shane who canít control his anger. Edgerton delivers on the comic promise he showed in Praise, a few yearsí back. The brothers are from a family of butchers, and they occasionally revert to a coded abattoir slang of words spoken backwards. This is just one of Robertsí unexpected touches - others include a drag detective and a dyslexic assassin.

Although the robber-brothers are stock types - Panic Roomís home invaders had the same personalities - Roberts plays with our expectations. His plot does not hinge on Shane losing his cool or Mal doing something stupid. Itís the rational Dale, the groupís nominal leader, who lands them in trouble.

Rounding out the characters is Daleís femme fatale tramp of a wife, Carol (a delicious Rachel Griffiths). Thereís a scene where she visits Dale in prison that will have you alternately squirming and laughing in disbelief. Sheís sleeping with Frank (Robert Taylor), the corrupt lawyer whoís planned the latest, most ambitious robbery and intends sending the brothers back to prison when itís over.

All the actors bring unexpected depths to characters that initially seem likely to remain caricatures. Except Taylor, whose one-dimensional lawyer seems to have walked off a daytime soap. Iím giving Taylor and Roberts the benefit of the doubt here - I suspect they wanted a completely unsympathetic character for the finale, which is an explosion of sub-Tarantino cartoon violence. The film has a heightened tone from the start, with a prison basketball match that turns almost comically nasty. In combination with the cranked-up performances, the tone of the film convinced me the violence wasnít to be taken seriously.

The Hard Word, shot around Sydney and Melbourne, looks and sounds uniquely Australian. Itís about male mateship and, besides Griffiths, the function of the female characters is mostly to confirm the brothersí heterosexuality. Which is a shame because I wanted more of Rhondda Findletonís counsellor - she works a treat with Edgerton.

Thereís a beautifully staged coda at an airport. It capped the rush of goodwill I felt for these characters and left me wanting to applaud.

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