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The Hard Word
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The Hard Word
cast: Guy Pierce, Rachel Griffiths, Joel Edgerton, Robert Taylor, and Damien Richardson

writer and director: Scott Roberts

104 minutes (18) 2002
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by John Percival
Dale (Guy Pearce), Mal (Damien Richardson) and Shane (Joel Edgerton) are the Twentyman brothers. Together they rob banks and do time in prison together; they are a unit. When their crooked lawyer Frank (Robert Taylor) has them released from prison, he has one final job for the siblings. He plans for the job to end in the brothers' deaths, so then he will be able to run off with the money and with Dale's wife Carol (Rachel Griffiths). The job is to rip off the bookies at The Melbourne Cup.
   Guy Pearce appears to have taken a break from his heartthrob image as the skinny beard Dale with his slicked back greasy hair. Dale is the central point of the trio and he keeps them all together. Mal, a butcher, is the lovable oaf while younger brother Shane is a hot-headed lunatic with more than a passing resemblance to Patrick Swayze in the Dirty Dancing days. When wishing to pass informing between themselves if front of prison guards or other people the boys turn to a language called Butcher-speak. A real language descended from the early convict exiles to Australia now mainly used by butchers. It involves speaking each word backwards but keeping it in the correct place in the sentence as if speaking it forward, then changing a few syllables to ease pronunciation. Complicated to describe but it does sound good when spoken and it helps to identify the bond between the brothers.
   Whilst there are many heist movies out there, it is pretty difficult to carve anything new and director Roberts has discovered this. The plot is outlandish and unbelievable in places, for example if the brothers are so good at what they do, then why do they spend so much time in prison requiring release by a crooked lawyer, two bent cops and a dishonest prison governor. The boys seem to believe they have a clear path ahead of them but instead are guided by events and lurch from one disaster to another. The setting is incredibly odd, whilst being bang up to date in the 21st century, it often looks and feels as much part of the 1980s as Prisoner: Cell Block H. Frank and Carol particularly look like they have walked into the wrong movie with her uncomfortable 1980s' rich girl look to Frank's orange perma-tanned face hidden behind big gold rimmed sunglasses.
   Where Scott Roberts has been unable to invent something new, he borrows from other popular heist films. Most notably is the pointlessly violent dyslexic Tarzan who, armed with a shotgun, is a black Vinnie Jones, mindlessly blasting anyone in his way. The Hard Word is more a pastiche of heist films painted against an Australian backdrop and peppered with some interesting local dialogue.
   It is the Australian setting of the film that probably saves it; set in yet another American location would have killed any chance of being different enough to be interesting. But here we have an Australian viewpoint that we see so infrequently (Neighbours does not count), it is a culture so much like our own but dissimilar at the same time. However pretty locations and saying 'mate' at the end of each sentence does nothing to hide some uncomfortable performances. Pearce does the job good expected of a Hollywood actor but Rachel Griffiths and Joel Edgerton never appear settled in their roles.
   The Hard Word tries so hard to appeal to so many people it ultimately only succeeds in pleasing a few. The comedy is good but coupled with the frequent diversions it completely destroys any chance of believing this to be a serious movie and with that goes any tension. So it is derivative of the heist genre and won't be called a classic but it is a good example of Australian filmmaking.
   There is some good back up in the form of DVD extras; these include a director's commentary, behind the scenes footage, a Storyboard To Screen featurette, an isolated music score, and the theatrical trailer. For me the best of these is Meatiarology - A Glossary Of Butcherspeak, which will probably get everyone trying to mimic the convicts' language.

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