Dirty Deeds

90 minutes of enjoyable antipodean gangster fun. Nothing more, nothing less.

Released in 2002, certified UK-18. Reviewed on 12 Jun 2003 by Craig Eastman
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When they're not busy having 'barbys' and being flying doctors, Australian people can usually be found building criminal empires (hey, they're all the children of British prisoners, right?). One such astute 'businessman' is Barry Ryan (Bryan Brown), kingpin of the Sydney nightclub and slot machine racket. Such is his clout, Barry owns just about everybody from the local politicians to local law enforcer Ray (Sam Neill), and lord knows he works them to his advantage. He has a young son, wife Sharon (Toni Collette), and a hot young bit on the side named Margaret (Kestie Morassi); aaah, life is sweet.

Sweet, that is, until local rival Freddie (Garry Waddell) attempts to strike a deal with visiting American Mafia hoods Tony (John Goodman) and Sal (Felix Williamson), a bemused pair of ambassadors there to scope out the local money-making potential for their Don. It's not long before tensions and temperatures start to rise, and it looks like the dusty red streets might soon be awash with blood; something Ray isn't too keen on since it would raise the criminal profile somewhat and expose his crooked ways.

The film kicks off with Barry's nephew Darcy (Sam Worthington) returning from draft duty in Vietnam circa 1969, an experience that gives him a unique overview of American ways, and thus makes him the natural choice for Barry's go-between with Tony and Sal. An unlikely father-son bond develops between Darcy and Tony, whilst the impetuous young Sal begins plotting to achieve his goal by pretty much killing everyone involved. It transpires that the Mafia wish to buy out Barry's end of the Australian operation, which he's naturally not too keen on, and so he asks Darcy to keep pressing Tony for info while he works out all the angles.

Amidst all this fear of backstabbing and takeover bids, Margaret starts making eyes at Darcy, Sharon becomes increasingly suspicious of Margaret, Sal starts to question Tony's commitment to his work ethic, and rumours begin of somebody working in Barry's organisation being a mole for Freddie. What's a bloody gangster supposed to do, ya bloody mongrel?

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Dirty Deeds is the kind of film you can imagine being made almost entirely on favours. The budget is plainly less than huge, but to director David Caesar's credit his lively visual style detracts much attention from money constraints. That he's managed to assemble quite such an impressive cast is also quite an achievement. One can only assume that with his history of working in Australian television he's possibly met a few of these folk before, hence their involvement in what is largely an unremarkable crime caper flick.

Of course, 'unremarkable' does not necessarily imply a lack of entertainment value, and Dirty Deeds supplies it's fair share of enjoyment for the audience. Now, for someone as shallow as me, there's a great deal of humour to be found in just listening to Australian people talking their natural lingo. All this talk of "rooting" and "bloody rippers" stitches me right up, and the script obviously makes concessions to accommodate such an under-developed sense of humour as mine. Consciously hip dialogue is becoming something of a chore in this post-Pulp Fiction world, but at least with Dirty Deeds it's in a dialect we rarely hear in a cinema.

Speaking of the audible aspects of the movie, Dirty Deeds sports a rather natty soundtrack of period pop which certainly adds to the general enjoyment. There's little wrong with the performances here, with only Sam Neill showing some signs of strain in what is a hugely uninspiring role. Collette is pleasantly fleshed out for a 'wife' role, her character gradually revealing a darker edge as the movie progresses and leaving us in no doubt as to who really wears the trousers in the Ryan household. Goodman is as dependable as ever; imposing when necessary but with the believably humane sentiment of a tired man who's seen to much killing for one lifetime, and Brown, despite veering a little into madman territory in the final reel, is amusing, dangerous and engaging in relatively equal measures.

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A lot of bad press has been directed at Dirty Deeds by the majority of reviewers, and I really do feel it's a little unjustified. Sure, it's nowhere near a classic, but it's no clunker either. The problem seems to be that it doesn't do anything terribly wrong; it's just that it doesn't do anything spectacularly well either. Overall it's pretty well balanced, but I did have a slight gripe with the occasional violence not quite sitting particularly well with the humour. Still, as I say it's pretty occasional, and for the most part this is entertaining, expletive-fuelled hokum of an enjoyable order that wouldn't offend too many people (assuming they don't mind the odd 'c' word thrown in).

There's a feeling that had something extra 'clicked', this might have been a whole lot more worthy of praise. There are moments of great dialogue, but the remainder of the script doesn't manage to fulfil the full potential of these glimpses, however Caesar's camerawork and editing preferences show promise for future features. The conclusion is relatively satisfying, and it's hard not to smile a little for the eventual winners in this high-stakes game of criminal deception and double-dealing.

Like Welcome to Collinwood, Dirty Deeds isn't so much a disappointment as a relatively promising, if flawed, start to what will hopefully be a more distinguished career in movies for the director. If you like your gangster flicks lightweight and aren't expecting a huge return on your 90 minute investment of time, check this out and be pleasantly surprised at how wrong the critics generally are. Except us, of course. We're always right ;-)

David Caesar
Cast list:
Bryan Brown (Barry Ryan)
Toni Collette (Sharon Ryan)
John Goodman (Tony)
Felix Williamson (Sal)
Sam Neill (Ray)
Sam Worthington (Darcy)
Kestie Morassi (Margaret)