Monday, 29 May 2006

The Hard Word (2002) DVD

Forget about Muriel's Wedding or Priscilla, Queen of the Desert or Baz Luhrmann’s Red Curtain trilogy. These movies, being quirky and offbeat, will always be more well known among Australia’s film exports, but it is films like The Hard Word that provide a crystal clear and rock hard assessment on how Australian cinema has improved by leaps and bounds over the years. To gauge the development of a national film industry, it’s best to look at how well its filmmakers produce genre films. Yes, you heard me right – genre films. They’re readily identifiable, there’s very few variations to the plot we haven’t seen before, and adhere to several unwritten but iron laws. That’s why genre films are a joy to watch when done by a quality ensemble of directors, writers, and actors.

The Hard Wood is a heist film set in Australia, with the three Twentyman brothers at its heart. Tools of a corrupt justice system the brothers are experts at armed robberies where, as their motto goes, “no one gets hurt”. Engaged by crooked agents of the state, Dale (Guy Pearce), Mal (Damien Richardson) and Shane (Joel Edgerton) make a profitable living. They pull off safe heists, split the proceeds 50-50 with the governor and their criminal handlers, in return for drastically reduced jail terms, where they spend time developing healthy hobbies like reading literature, bodybuilding, and honing their culinary skills. It’s a gravy train where everyone profits, including Dale’s wife Carol (Rachel Griffiths) and Frank (Robert Taylor), the lawyer for the brothers.

But just when the brothers believe they have done their final assignment, Frank sends them word of an ambitious project, one that will enable everyone to retire in security. He wants to pull off the biggest heist in Australian history, to make off with millions of dollars of betting money from the Melbourne Cup bookies. There are some things that the slimy lawyer doesn’t tell Dale, though. For example, the fact that he’s been having an affair over the years with Carol, who is more of a gold digger than a patient and loyal wife who stands by her man. The stage is set for a tangled web of deceit, fuelled by Frank’s greed, Carol’s infidelity, Dale’s brilliance and Shane’s malevolence (Mal’s the nice, harmless brother who just wants to make the best sausages in the world). Or that he intends to kill them once they hand over their hard-earned money.

There are a few things worth looking forward to in heist movies: the double-crosses and triple-crosses, how the robbers have to outwit the security and the traitors within their midst, the execution of the heist, and the inevitable surprise twist ending. Scott Roberts delivers all of these and more. The script is refreshing and well-written, and despite their peculiarities, the criminal brothers are essentially agreeable and interesting characters that the audience won’t find it difficult to root for them or hope that they will get away alive and on top of things in the end. It’s an achievement of the writer-director that at no point will audiences find the story implausible because of its Australian setting. Production-wise, the sets, costume designs, and cinematography are so expertly done that The Hard Word looks and plays as good, if not better than other heist movies from Hollywood – even better than Steven Soderbergh’s remake of Ocean’s Eleven, in fact.

The Hard Word deserves to be watched because of its brilliant execution of the genre, as well as its almost uniquely dark Aussie humour. Together with the recently released The Proposition, a violent western set in Australia starring Guy Pearce, this movie is an example of the towering heights Australian writers, directors and actors have quietly achieved.

DVD Extras

To my dismay, the standard R3 DVD release does not have a commentary track by the director. I’d like to hear Scott Roberts explain and defend the decisions he made to produce this excellent genre film. Instead, the best extra in this DVD is the featurette, which is a longer version of the trailer, with the actors explaining their roles in voiceovers. The cast and crew interview is a welcome feature, but it is too fragmentary and choppy to really enjoy in a single seating.

First published at incinemas on 29 May 2006

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