Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Little Gem from Down Under: The Hard Word

For those of us largely fed on myopic Hollywood fare, this 2002 gem from Australia is a rare and welcome treat. That fact that it effortlessly blends a bunch of conventional genres (heist thriller, prison drama, social commentary, psychological exercise) without tiring the viewer is further to its credit.

Three brothers, Dale (Guy Pearce), Shane (joel Edgerton) and Mal (Damien Richardson) are mysteriously sprung from jail on the orders of the state governor. Their new-found freedom procvesto be short-lived however, and they discover that they are pawns in a game of greed and deception (what else?) that also involves Dale's wife (Rachel Griffith) and a crooked lawyer (more on him later.)

First-time director Scott Roberts shows a deft hand in bringing his own script to life. Both violence and a considerable level of raunch are delivered without the lurid edge that often attends the features from the big-budget guys. Its almost done matter-of-fact.... almost.

The cast is superb, but three really stand out. Pearce, as the unofficial but unquestioned leader is the kind of career criminal to almost give the "profession" a good name; he blends gut instinct with literary appreciation and accepts that violence is a part of his chosen life, but without courting it. Griffith, as his wife Carol, is equally smart, feisty, and strong-willed and guided by her own moral compass, which entails sleeping with Frank (Robert Taylor), the greedy and amoral lawyer and fixer who's been stringing everybody along for his own ends. The few scenes in which the three of them are together are really priceless.  

By film's end, everyone has pretty much gotten what's coming to them, and at the risk of giving the final scene away, I'll say that if you're looking for any signs of reform amongst the brothers, you'd best look elsewhere, like to the skies. If you're looking for a smart, taut, pull-no-punches thriller, then look Down Under. This one's it.

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