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Overall Rating
3.79

Awesome: 29.79%
Worth A Look: 19.15%
Just Average51.06%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 0%

5 reviews, 17 user ratings


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Hard Word, The
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by Thom

"Gritty Australian crime drama with something like 'heart'"
3 stars

Australian director Scott Robert’s The Hard Word is like last years French thriller READ MY LIPS (Sur Mes Levres) - A gritty, subtle crime drama about complex characters with very simple motivations. Honor among thieves is the film’s unspoken catchphrase and ideas like good and bad and right and wrong side of the law are less important than the bonds of love and friendship.

Rachel Griffiths (MURIEL'S WEDDING) plays a tough-talking tart, Carol, opposite Guy Pearce’s Dale as the brains and moral leader of a three-man crime partnership. With her cascading blonde hair, short skirts and aviator glasses giving her a cool, reserved air, she willingly uses her sex to keep the dangerous men in her life wrapped around her fingers. She knows how to play the game to stay alive. While Dale is in prison, she takes up with Dale’s lawyer, Frank Malone (Robert Taylor) who uses his influence with collaborators in the police department to get Dale and his cronies out of the pokey to pull “one more job.” Trouble is, Frank also makes sure the band of three end up right back in jail after the job is pulled.

What makes this film so compelling is that Frank is a mild-mannered, likeable guy who’s outward personality does nothing to sway our emotional feelings towards him. He doesn’t come off as the villain, nor do we have any reason to not like him. He doesn’t mistreat Carol, he isn’t overtly abusive, he doesn’t yell a lot and you don’t feel like he is a direct threat to the people around him. But the fact that he’s a respectable professional involved in high level corruption and he looks as clean as a whistle while he’s engineering the biggest heists in Australian history gives his character a deep, unsettling creepiness not unlike John Ashcroft or Richard Cheney or the Ken Lay of Enron.

But he’s no Kaiser Soze either. While honor among thieves has kept the “good” guys and the “bad” guys working their appropriate sides of the fence, Frank’s duplicity and self-interest eventually causes the band of three to turn against him.

Joel Edgarton plays Shane, known as the “fuck up." Whereas Dale is the smart one. And Mal, played by Damien Richardson, is the “good one” While you could conceive of The Hard Word as a relationship drama, you have to bring a lot to the film to tease out the meaning of the relationships. Dale, Shane and Mal are a kind of a family and they do everything together. Their unique skills and flaws are a story unto themselves. A subplot involving a prison counselor gives us some insight into Shanes deeply wounded self but it’s hard to connect his angry outburts to his childhood. Shane’s emotional instability is really only a threat to strangers. While it’s interesting to get some of Shane’s backstory, it does little to develop the character nor does it move the story forward. However, it does allow for an Oedipal sex scene with the counselor.

Damien Richardson plays Mal with open-eyed guile. He doesn't come off as less cunning, rather that being a criminal is not his primary interest in life. So many other gang or crime films portray the "robbers" as being self-consciously fixated on themselves as bad-ass motherfuckers. Mal, along with Dale and to a certain extent Shane, are not fixated on themselves as immoral or mean. They are not macho in the sense of the word that connotes a destruction of the female principal to assert the male.

When you take Dale, Shane and Mal out of the crime element, they come across as three best blokes who enjoy each other’s company. All Dale wants is to be with his wife, Carol and enjoy their life together. Mal’s joy comes from preparing his home-made sausages and feeding his friends and Shane is a ladies man. When they leave the criminal life and try to be legit, they open up a succesful vacation resort and the guests would never know were in the midst of ex-cons. Dale, Mal and Shane are not anti-social. They just like robbing banks. Their main objective during a robbery was to get the money and to not hurt anyone. In the opening scene, instead of just killing whoever stands in their way as you would see in most crime thriller dramas, they use a net gun and knock-out gas. It gave the whole film a soft-edge and was ironically more startling than the graphic violence American audiences crave.

Gun play doesn’t enter the story until much later and is introduced by a character named Tarzan (Dorian Nikona) who is not only completely stupid but he’s also a cold-blooded killer with no regard for human life whatsoever. He makes up for his inadequacies as a strategist by simply blowing away anyone who gets in his way. Tarzan is the epitome of the anti-social, schoolyard bully behaviour. Whereas Shane is prone to angry outbursts, he is not prone to simply lash out and attack an innocent person. It is unfortunate that Tarzan just so happens to be the darker skinned character. That doesn’t mean as much to an Australian audience but in America it communicates the bigoted racial stigma of the “dangerous black man.” It doesn’t help that pop figures like 50 Cent get marketed right alongside guns and the supposed ultra-violent inner-city gang life popularly represented by those looking to cash in on the current popularity of hip-hop and “urban” entertainment.

I like the use of the word “urban” to mean “city dweller” with the connotation of “cultural sophistication” more than “inner city black/hispanic culture” or as it should be called “occulture” since much of the reality if inner-city life is hidden from the mainstream through a careful concentration of violent imagery, symbolism and gang machismo packaged as entertainment.

The film’s ending gives the female character some of her power back but as alpha as she is, Carol is still very much subservient to the men in her life. She wants to be aligned with the strongest bull for her own protection and well-being and if she has to switch allegiences, she must do so carefully so as to not have the new stronger male reject her for her infidelities, thus leaving her to choose from the weaker of the herd. Carol is an interesting woman but she is definitely “the woman” and all that denotes as a prize object, a piece of property and most importantly, a piece of ass.

More than the millions heisted, Carol is the real prize being schemed and fought for. It is Carol that is being heisted back and forth between Frank Malone and Dale. And Carol is no fool. She’ll go with whoever is left standing after the final battle and call it “love.” Lucky for Carol, she is able to turn that choice into an act of faithfulness that convinces Dale of her sincerity. The end of the film says, “Let bygones be bygones and let there be honor among thieves.”

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=5938&reviewer=67
originally posted: 06/11/03 19:12:12
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2003 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/19/04 Agent Sands Pretty fun and clever. Good music score. 4 stars
7/22/03 Matt Williams God movie, charcater based and not all violence, good flick 4 stars
6/01/03 Mina Hollywood better start improving their actor's abilities after seeing this one 5 stars
5/06/03 dj bronnie I'm a film reviewer and I loved the freshness of this film. No Hollywood manufacturing 5 stars
3/26/03 Tia Larsen better than dirty deeds 5 stars
11/02/02 Mina Pearce is the first "real" actor I've seen in years! 5 stars
7/03/02 Sarah Leheny brilliant 5 stars
6/23/02 ^Elendil^ Fun. Exciting. Some humour. Much suspense. Worthwhile popcorn fare. 4 stars
5/31/02 J Shemberiton full of pace looks beautiful,sounds great 5 stars
5/31/02 young one love Guy 5 stars
5/31/02 camster full of suspense 5 stars
5/31/02 clackers brilliant 5 stars
5/31/02 maddies cousin sexy 5 stars
5/31/02 maddie very cool 5 stars
5/31/02 james S great action 5 stars
5/31/02 homlby just great 5 stars
5/31/02 Barry Breen Astounding 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  13-Jun-2003 (R)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  30-May-2002




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