The Hard Word

A blackly comic, neo-noir heist picture, Australian screenwriter Scott Roberts's directing debut fairly oozes strenuous eccentricity. Robert's models seem to have been the pulp novels of Jim Thompson, Guy Ritchie's laddish LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS (1998) and SNATCH (2000) by way of the Coen brothers' BLOOD SIMPLE (1984). But his film's hard-boiled...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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A blackly comic, neo-noir heist picture, Australian screenwriter Scott Roberts's directing debut fairly oozes strenuous eccentricity. Robert's models seem to have been the pulp novels of Jim Thompson, Guy Ritchie's laddish LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS (1998) and SNATCH (2000) by way of the Coen brothers' BLOOD SIMPLE (1984). But his film's hard-boiled excesses are more reminiscent of 1970s Italian crime pictures, which ratcheted up the violence and cynicism of their American models but invariably lost something in the translation. Imprisoned brothers Dale (Guy Pearce), Mal (Damien Richardson) and Shane Twentyman (Joel Edgerton) have always abided by a few simple rules, foremost that no one gets hurt during their robberies. Though markedly different — Dale's the lean and hungry brain, Mal is a pudgy, good-natured goofball and the muscle-bound Shane is a flat-out psycho with a deceptive sweet streak — the brothers always have each other's backs. When they want to talk privately in public, they use the colorful butcher's back-slang they picked up from their dad. Dale's crooked lawyer, Frank (Robert Taylor), has devised a novel way for them to set aside some cash while they're in jail and curry favor with the crooked warden as well. The warden periodically lets the brothers out on top-secret furloughs, during which they to pull off heists in and around nearby Sydney. The brothers have the perfect alibi — if they're in jail they could hardly be out committing robberies — and the carefully distributed cash keeps everyone quiet. But there's always a catch, in this case two. Dale is being eaten up by the conviction that his tarty wife, Carol (Rachel Griffiths), is two-timing him with Frank, and Frank gets greedy and arranges a daring race-track robbery in Melbourne without consulting his partners, very bad cops Kelly (Vince Colosimo) and O'Riordan (Paul Sonkkila). The heist goes spectacularly bad, setting in motion a bloody, escalating chain reaction of double- and triple-crosses. The plot is familiar and Roberts is trying too hard to be colorfully hard-edged, but the film's full-throttle performances — with the conspicuous exception of Taylor, who's so wooden he sounds dubbed — are entertaining. What Griffiths lacks in blowsy curves she makes up for with an extravagant vulgarity that reaches its apex when she dips her finger under her skirt and smears a happy face on the visiting-room partition that separates her from Dale. Even he's stunned.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: R
  • Review: A blackly comic, neo-noir heist picture, Australian screenwriter Scott Roberts's directing debut fairly oozes strenuous eccentricity. Robert's models seem to have been the pulp novels of Jim Thompson, Guy Ritchie's laddish LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRE… (more)

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