When one considers that Australia is a country largely founded by convicts, it could be argued that our cinematic obsession with crime is fairly unhealthy. Yet this hasn't stopped these films being made by the truckload; Two Hands, Chopper, Dirty Deeds and The Hard Word are just a few of the more prominent recent examples. Although, while many would appreciate our country's celluloid efforts to be about more than beer, thongs, swearing, yobbos, Aussie battlers and to a lesser extent, khaki-wearing reptile fiends, you simply can't argue with the masses. Almost all of these films, especially in the crime genre, have been hugely popular in both their cinematic runs and on the home video market. Thus, it is almost inevitable that we will see more to come. Luckily, so far, the majority of these films have at least made for worthwhile viewing and The Hard Word, despite some minor problems, is certainly no exception.
What's it all about then? The Hard Word is essentially the story of the Twentyman brothers and their struggle sticking together as they are screwed by almost everybody they become involved with. Dale (Guy Pearce) is the smart one, the man with the plan and the brains to get it done. Shane (Joel Edgerton) is the brawn, the dangerous edge that provides that extra bit of fuel for the fire, and Mal (Damien Richardson), well he's the, erm... nice one.
The boys are released from prison with a little help from their crooked lawyer Frank Malone (Robert Taylor) and some equally bent coppers, on the condition that they organise and excecute a daring robbery on an armoured car. Everything flows beautifully, that is until Frank and the cops do a swift switcheroo on the boys, and they end up having to go straight back to prison. The brothers Twentyman are none too pleased with the situation, especially Dale with the knowledge that Frank has been trying to leech his wife on the outside. Unfortunately, there's not a hell of a lot they can do about all this from behind bars. However, when Frank approaches the boys with a proposition to heist the Melbourne Cup and finally get their freedom, they take the opportunity with extreme caution.
The Hard Word is basically a story of camaraderie, but above all, family. At least, that's what it has been intended as. Whether or not this is something you'll come away with after watching the film depends on your ability to accept the ridiculous. While the beginnings are true to this theme, there are many subplots and events along the way that just don't sit right. Rather than enhancing the theme of struggle, many of these scenes feel like they've been lifted from another film entirely. Shane's somewhat perverse relationship with his psychiatrist feels almost like a half-baked attempt at David Lynch, and really doesn't help ground his character as it seems was intended. We know hard nuts all have issues and a soft side to boot, but do we really need to him suckling on a teat to hammer the point home?
Conversely, Dale's femme fatale/complete bitch-skank of a wife Carol (Rachel Griffiths) is a strong character, but that's exactly the point - she's so despicable for the majority of the film that you end up wondering why Dale even cares for her, let alone lets her get in the way of his freedom. If it was the intention to make her so objectionable, it certainly makes the film's ending even more difficult to swallow.
On the subject of the ending, the film is definitely ten minutes too long. While this might not seem like much for a 99 minute film, the events that unfold within these last frames will be difficult to swallow for even the most nonchalant of viewers. A few other niggling issues lie within some of the action scenes being taken into farcical territory, but at the very least these are still fun and are no more ridiculous than anything found within Snatch or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
|"You'd be a mutton man wouldn't ya, Doug? I could see you goin' full clacker with a prize ram!"|
Despite all of the above issues, however, The Hard Word ends up as a winner purely because of the three leads. Guy Pearce, Joel Edgerton and Damien Richardson have the kind of rapport that many would kill for, effortlessly slipping into the roll of brothers and playing off each other like it was some sort of Olympic event. Wry, sly and hamming it up with a jutting chin that would make even the most neanderthalian Aussie whimper in defeat, Guy Pearce is in top form, relishing the chance to be 'back home' and proving yet again that he is one of the most talented and versatile character actors around. Joel Edgerton does well in shaking off the Secret Life... tag, portraying a memorable nutcase who is as much of a frustrated puppy as he is concentrated TNT. And a truly stunning effort comes from long-time stage actor Damien Richardson who eloquently fills the boots of the kind of pensive character usually reserved for industry veterans.
Overall, the boys are clearly having lots of fun with the material on offer here and if it weren't for them, the film's inconsistencies would almost be too much to bear. While many will come for the promise of the action, most will stay, true to the film's title in many ways, for the banter.