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The Hard Word (2002)

Blood and Guts (Australia)

All It Takes Is A Little Persuasion

Directed by:

Scott Roberts

Rating: 5/10

Running Time: 99 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 18

On DVD

Country: Australia, United Kingdom

In 'The Hard Word', as in countless other heist movies, criminals who are set on going straight are asked to pull off 'one last job' – only here, the criminals are already behind bars. While serving time for a previous sentence, the Twentyman brothers – Dale (Guy Pearce), Mal (Damien Richardson) and Shane (Joel Edgerton) – have successfully committed a number of bloodless armed robberies on temporary release, with the connivance of their slippery lawyer Frank (Robert Taylor), a pair of crooked policemen, and the corrupt prison governor. Nobody gets hurt, the brothers have a watertight alibi, and everyone gets a cut of the money. The brothers, however, start to suspect that Frank and his co-conspirators are quite happy for them to stay in prison indefinitely, and so, in return for their permanent release, they are forced to accept 'one last job' from Frank – lifting the takings from the Melbourne Cup, Australia's biggest annual horserace – even if they know that Frank wants them dead, and the money and Dale's wife Carol (Rachel Griffiths) for himself.

'The Hard Word' pulls you in right from the start with its big brassy theme music (by David Thrussell) and then grips you with its raw humour, its ingenious premise, and its quirky characters – but then, from about halfway through, the film completely loses its way and, like the brothers' shifty lawyer, keeps refusing to deliver on its promises, leaving the viewer feeling decidedly ripped off. So many details that at first seem intriguing, like Shane's mother-fixation and Mal's expertise in butchery, turn out to have been only so much padding, of little or no importance to the plot that eventually unfolds. The eccentric relationships which the two younger brothers strike up with the women that they meet are carefully built up – only to be unceremoniously discarded, along with the women themselves. And the lengthy epilogue, supposedly containing the film's pay-off, just seems a disappointing and strangely arbitrary appendage, with a series of twists that underwhelm.

The tone of the film also misfires. The brothers are presented largely as comic figures, but at the same time we are apparently supposed to take seriously their family background and details about their childhood – and if we do not take these seriously, a shocking scene involving Shane and his counsellor Jane (Rhondda Findleton) proves to be jarringly ridiculous. Fortunately first-time director Scott Roberts managed to attract an exceptional cast, from the big names playing his main characters to the veterans of Australian television or the stand-up circuit in the smaller rôles. The top-notch acting makes 'The Hard Word' a pleasure to watch, and smoothes over some of the film's flaws – but what was really needed was a script editor to sit down with Roberts and to have a long, hard word about the film's out-of-joint structure.

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It's Got: Great performances, a ballsy soundtrack, bent cops, a crooked lawyer, a devious femme fatale, crude prison songs, a dyslexic killer called Tarzan, a lava lamp used as a lethal weapon, a big cow, and some heavy Freudian therapy.

It Needs: A more even script and a better conceived structure.

DVD Extras Scene selection; optional Dolby Digital 5.1; option to watch film with music soundtrack only; subtitles for the hearing impaired; full audio commentary by writer/director Scott Roberts, with quite a lot of story paraphrasing, but also some interesting anecdotes about fly-wrangling, the difficulty of finding an actress willing to play Shanes counsellor, and scenes changed from the original script (including the ending); meatierology, Roberts notes on the sociolinguistic background to the butcher talk employed in the film by the brothers; theatrical trailer; behind-the-scenes (5min), which is essentially a glorified trailer plus very brief interviews on set with cast and crew; comprehensive cast and crew bios, including actors Guy Pearce, Rachel Griffiths, Robert Taylor, Joel Edgerton, Damien Richardson, writer/director Scott Roberts, producer Al Clark, DOP Brian Breheny, editor Martin Connor, production designer Paddy Reardon, costume designer Terry Ryan, composer David Thrussell; a 3 minute comparison of the storyboards to the finished chase sequence, with commentary; music video for opening theme (very stylish cut-up of scenes from film). DVD Extras Rating: 8/10

Summary

Prison heist comedy with a structure that goes a bit out of joint once its main characters are, er, out of the joint.

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