The Hard Word
Directed by Scott Roberts. Starring Guy Pearce, Rachel Griffiths, Joel Edgerton, Damien Richardson, Robert Taylor, Rhondda Findleton. (2003, R, 103 min.)
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., July 11, 2003
Clever and engaging, this Aussie caper flick is a fine genre effort, with polished, craftsmanlike direction from debuting helmer Roberts, hitherto noted for "tough-guy" movie scripts (Riders of the Storm). Though The Hard Word concerns the camaraderie among a band of macho outsiders – here, three jailbird robbers in cahoots with the corrupt local law enforcement – Roberts’ film is also sophisticated and appealing. Dale (Pearce) is the brains of the outfit; his brother Shane (Edgerton) is the muscle, and his brother Mal (Richardson) provides a certain childlike optimism – he’s the kind of fellow who enjoys grinding blood sausages and blurting out to a pretty woman, "You smell better than Christmas dinner!" They like to knock over banks, but they’re principled: Dale reads self-help books to bolster his shaky marriage to femme-fatale Carol (Griffiths), and the three pledge to avoid hurting anyone during a heist. Too bad their defense lawyer (Taylor) is such a greedy fuck, making time with Carol and planning to bump the boys off during their fateful last big heist. Once the plot gets rolling, it barrels along, faster than a freight train, from one double-cross to the next. By the time a wild-card operator named Tarzan (Dorian Nkono) joins the ride, their tidy little score has become one big mess. This is one tart testosterone cocktail, unpretentious and hard-nosed as Elmore Leonard at his grittiest (think 52 Pick-Up). You could make a case that Roberts is misogynist, were it not for the palpable relish with which Griffiths digs into her role as the cool blond tramp, with her coke-snorting acrylic nails and metallic strappy sandals. (She does a nasty little trick during a prison visit that is better seen than described.) She refuses to be pushed aside and steals every scene; it’s quite fun to watch. Also of note is David Thrussell’s classy, cool score, which melds muted jazz trumpets with drum machines and more wah-pedal guitar than you can shake a platform shoe at. Yet the music backs off when the movie needs it to. Some of the film’s odds and ends (such as Shane’s relationship with his prison-appointed therapist) don’t quite fit into the neat little package the movie seems to want to be, otherwise. The screenwriter in Roberts still holds sway over his directorial instincts; the relationship between the brothers is best revealed by seeing them on the run, rather than by the script’s throwaway references to their home life with mum. The ending, too, seems a little overwritten, with a too-lengthy, flabby denouement. But The Hard Word works quite well for what it is: a wooly crime yarn with touches of humor and a satisfying, well-developed relationship between the schemers.