The Hard Word

Foul-mouthed Aussie heist drama / comedy that gets more right than wrong.

Released in 2002, certified UK-18. Reviewed on 20 Sep 2003 by Scott Morris
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There's no nation on earth that can swear as effectively as the Australians, and they somehow mange to be intrinsically funny while doing it. If you strongly disagree with this statement then you may want to avoid The Hard Word as it contains more swearing at largely unnecessary places than anything I've seen in the cinema in the last year. As for finding it funny, well, I never claimed to be mature despite my years.

Dale Twentyman (Guy Pearce) is a smart man, but not smart enough to avoid being locked in the slammer for his bank robbing activities. In the traditions established by The Krays and Get Carter, he's a good crook. Prides himself on not hurting anyone during their raids, loving husband to his slutty wife Carol (Rachel Griffiths), never forgets a birthday, recycles, that sort of thing. Join him behind bars are his brothers, Mal (Damien Richardson) and Shane (Joel Edgerton). Shane may be giving an off the cuff description of his family when he declares to the prison counsellor that 'Dale's the smart one, Mal's the good one and I'm the fuck-up' but its pretty accurate. Mal seems out of place, even though he's clearly at ease as a hardcore thief. He never seems dangerous, only nice. Shane on the other hand is very dangerous. Struggling with the concept anger management, if upset he's not adverse to destroying anything in his path and carrying through on his manifold threats. Messing with him or his family is a very bad idea.

As it happens, someone is messing with his family. While Dale and brothers are locked up their lawyer and partner in crime Frank (Robert Taylor) is busy getting busy with Dale's beautiful wife Carol. He's desperate to convince Carol to leg it to foreign climes once he's convinced the Twentymans to do one last job. Thanks to an arrangement with two crooked cops and a bent prison governor, he can arrange for the brothers to be given day release for the express purpose of robbing banks. A shuffle of paperwork later and the boys have a perfect alibi, namely that they were locked up on remand when the incident occurred. The perfect crime.

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Dale is rightly suspicious of Frank, especially after the last successful job that they were told would be their last before a proper release from choky. Even more so when the heist is on the other side of the country, at the Melbourne Cup. They're going to beat the fairly heavy security around the bookies as they retire to a classy hotel for a knees up with the days substantial takings in tow, enough for a number of people to retire on. Certainly Frank hopes it will, after hiring a few other goons to 'help' the Twentymans with this big job, with a further instruction to 'help' them into wooden boxes at the jobs conclusion.

The job doesn't go quite to plan. Everything seems to be running smoothly until one of the new chaps by the unlikely moniker of Tarzan (Dorian Nkono, in an atrocious performance) goes a shade kill-crazy and starts taking out the security guards until he's downed by one of them. The brothers manage to get away with the cash, after a kinetic getaway on foot which is rarely seen these days and even harder to get right. For a first time director a lot of praise must go to Scott Roberts for this scene. There are flaws present elsewhere but in this chase between the Twentymans and Frank and his remaining goon you feel each pound of their feet and the sweat of their brows, a truly involving and dynamic moment and a welcome burst of action from the air of tension that's been built up before hand. In fact, the movies main mistake is that it would provide an excellent opportunity to finish here, but continues on for another half hour.

The story seems desperate to reconcile Carol with Dale and for rank to get his eventual comeuppance, but it's a step too far and feels too bolted on to be truly effective. It ends up feeling like it was hastily added to appease the usual demands of a standard ending where everyone gets what they deserve, but it feels artificial and doesn't pull too much out of the bag to make it memorable. I'm betting that it's this lacklustre ending that's responsible for it's mediocre notices from the press. For all the talk of first impressions when you're watching a movie a great ending can make a mediocre film seem something special as it gives you that buzz on leaving the cinema, but the opposite is often true as well. A poor ending can undo a lot of goodwill built until that point, and The Hard Word doesn't have a particularly memorable conclusion.

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It you look beyond that, I believe you'll find a pretty enjoyable film. The early sections of the movie introduce a few subplots that could have been expanded on in favour of the ending, and it feels like an opportunity wasted. Mal's relationship with a girl them convince to drive them back across country feels like it ought to have gone somewhere other than the sudden cut off it eventually receives, which may build more sympathy for Mal but not for the script. Shane's strange relationship with his female counsellor begs for more screentime, with Shane revealing some very deep neuroses and character flaws that are at the seat of his psychological problems. These could do with more prominence at it reveals a lot about Shane and made me care about him as a person rather than a thug. They build up a bizarre mother / son dynamic that's swiftly cut off as the script moves them apart, and that's a missed opportunity.

Carol ends up being magnificently devious, twisting Frank and Dale to her will, but it's Guy Pearce that steals many of the scenes. He always seems to be thinking, scanning the angles, and he's a very strong character that ends up being underused. He's calm and collected at all time, and always seems in control with a fine line in understatement and sarcasm. On entering his home to find two dead policemen, one by way of force feeding a lava lamp at Franks hand, he proceeds on to confront Frank with his only comment on the scene of death being, 'Funny business in the bedroom..'. As anti-heroes go, he's pretty effective. Robert Taylor nails the 'scheming slimeball' character well enough for you to want him dead.

There's the usual fluid morality you have to apply in films of this ilk, hoping that the bad guys triumph over the worse guys when I suppose we really ought to hope that they all fail. The first three quarters of the film are more than enjoyable enough to make you forget about this and enjoy the scheming and the duplicity of it all, but the end may make you think about this a little too much. In this age of utterly, utterly vacuous scripts it's a shame to have too say that there's too much going on in a film, but Roberts' script could do with being a little more focused in places. In trying too cram another little twist in the tale he ends up doing more harm than good and it's this that's his greatest failure here, but it's a noble failure.

I'm perhaps being a little lenient on this point because I've seen a lot of films lately that have tried to be deep and have failed utterly. The Hard Word manages to pull it off for the majority of it's runtime, and it's also very funny and enjoyable to boot. For most people I reckon it'll sit nearer a three star effort, but I've a weakness for Aussie cursing which makes it a relatively easy decision for me to award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

Scott Roberts
Cast list:
Guy Pearce (Dale Twentyman)
Rachel Griffiths (Carol Twentyman)
Robert Taylor (Frank)
Joel Edgerton (Shane Twentyman)
Damien Richardson (Mal Twentyman)
Dorian Nkono (Tarzan)