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Overall Rating

Awesome: 11.43%
Worth A Look71.43%
Average: 2.86%
Pretty Bad: 2.86%
Total Crap: 11.43%

3 reviews, 17 user ratings

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Dirty Deeds (2002)
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by Andrew Howe

"Bon Scott would have approved"
4 stars

Countless British and American films have canvassed the life of the career criminal, but you won’t need more than one hand to count the Australian entries in the genre. The reasons are twofold: our criminal cabals tend to keep the high-profile and visually stimulating murders to a minimum, and most Aussie crooks lack the menacing screen presence of a Jack Carter or a Michael Corleone. However, it’s the one place in the world you’ll encounter that irrepressible larrikin spirit, and writer/director David Caesar ladles on the local flavour with a hugely enjoyable film about changing times, clashing cultures and the pleasures of a well-made pizza.

The era is the late 1960’s, the Vietnam War is in full swing, and gambling magnate Barry Ryan (Bryan Brown) is surfing the wave of Sydney’s passion for one-armed bandits. His nephew Darcy (Sam Worthington) is looking forward to a lifetime of easy money, but the status quo is shattered by the arrival of Tony (John Goodman) and Sal (Felix Williamson), a couple of Mafia lightweights looking to muscle in on the local action. Barry refuses to accept that US involvement is the way of the future, and the bulk of the film chronicles his attempts to outplay the interlopers while dealing with a gang war that’s erupted in his own backyard.

The basic set-up owes a debt to The Long Good Friday, but that film was concerned with charting Bob Hoskins’s road to ruin through his bullish response to Irish opposition. Caesar adopts a considerably lighter approach – it’s by no means a comedy, but he conspires to make life on the wrong side of the law seem like a bit of a lark, and the addition of sporadic violence places the film comfortably within the territory pioneered by Tarantino in the mid-90’s.

Two Hands nudged Brown in the direction of the comeback trail, and he essentially reprises his character from that film with another likeable but hard-edged performance. After a string of international films Toni Collette reclaims her Aussie accent with a brief but enjoyable turn as Barry’s wife (her showdown with her husband’s mistress is a highlight), Williamson treats his role as a screen-test for the next Scorsese film to good effect, and Sam Neill has a fine old time playing an unflappable police officer who moonlights as Barry’s guardian angel (at one stage he walks in on Barry dragging a couple of bullet-riddled corpses out of a nightclub. “Murder-suicide,” he declares.)

Worthington’s role is critical to the film’s success, since he’s the one character with whom most viewers will be able to identify. Darcy’s a good kid, and while he’s not overly bright his strong moral compass compensates for the script’s occasional mean-spirited moments. However, the real highlight is Goodman, whose endearing portrayal of a genial Mafia troubleshooter who’d rather talk things over than pull out a piece provides the film with a much-needed dose of heart.

The dialogue is drenched in the Australian idiom, and to the modern ear it occasionally sounds like Caesar is exaggerating for effect. However, in the 60’s Aussie slang was yet to be supplanted by the lingo of our British and American brethren, and it creates a distinctive atmosphere that’s reinforced by the production design’s attention to period detail.

The film rises on the strength of the differences between American and Australian culture - Sydney comes off as something of a backwater to the technologically advanced Yanks (witness Sal’s reaction to the news that colour television has yet to be introduced), while the Aussies take every opportunity to score points off the visitors by playing up our rugged and anti-authoritarian self-image. It might not mean as much to overseas viewers who haven’t spent the last fifty years living in the shadow of our distant ally, but Australian audiences will revel in the protagonists’ unapologetic parochialism.

If the film has a flaw, it’s that nothing much actually happens for the duration. Caesar has never been one for convoluted plots and long-winded character building – keeping the narrative motoring along is his primary concern, and he’s content to craft a pleasantly fast-paced experience at the expense of something more substantial. However, setting out to create a two-hour slice of pure entertainment is nothing to be ashamed of, and he even manages to wrap things up in a manner that’s none the worse for defying our expectations (make sure you stay past the initial closing credits).

Dirty Deeds isn’t going to win any awards for insight or characterisation, and anyone expecting American-style mayhem will be disappointed. However, I won’t be losing any sleep if high-impact gunplay and inflated body counts remain offshore, and if you’re in the mood for an enjoyable film with a uniquely Australian bent then Caesar’s got just the thing you’re looking for.

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originally posted: 08/20/02 20:21:08
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For more in the Australian series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

4/02/08 charles really nice movie... watch it and you will not regret! 5 STARS - Awesome 5 stars
8/19/05 Shelly great cinematograpy and characterization, a bit predictable 4 stars
5/19/05 ABomb Who is Caesar blowing? How does he keep getting money? All his films are flops! And suck. 1 stars
4/04/05 John Bale True blue Ocka comedy thriller, Brown in top form has a ball. Goodman not far behind. 4 stars
1/14/05 Lance So the big climax is...some pigs being shot? David Caesar is our worst director, bar none. 1 stars
11/02/04 CraigA I've been away from Oz since 1967 and the film's period detail is spot on 4 stars
10/23/04 LilyM So dull I couldn't follow most of it. Picks up towards the end though. 2 stars
8/07/04 A.J. Stanson Fun, although instantly forgetable 4 stars
11/17/03 Corky An odd blend of humor and violence; enjoyable but instantly forgettable. 3 stars
10/02/03 b b 5 stars
8/04/03 Steve H A great movie, although many non-aussies may not be able to fully appreciate it!! 5 stars
1/22/03 Pinkline Jones Bryan Brown Bores us to sleep at the Bourbon and Beef 1 stars
1/16/03 John Bale Homegrown "Cinema Noir" this gritty Aussie crime drama with a sense of humour. Brown great! 4 stars
11/02/02 John Boxall A fine movie 5 stars
10/27/02 Philip Nice bit of Aussie retro, even if a bit predictable. Good to see Bryan Brown back. 4 stars
9/22/02 Vincent Mancini An okay movie with an overly happy ending 4 stars
8/29/02 Dean Slow and boring. Enficising the aussie accent, was way over the top. 1 stars
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Directed by
  David Caesar

Written by
  David Caesar

  Bryan Brown
  Toni Collette
  John Goodman
  Sam Neill
  Sam Worthington
  Kestie Morassi

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