The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Hard Word

An Aussie crime drama with a handful of recognizable actors, a story that is both highly dramatic and oddly funny, and in general a feeling of originality (if somewhat misplaced and odd) that a lot of movies just don't have. All these things work for and against 2002's The Hard Word, a genuinely weird movie that I still managed to enjoy.

Working as pawns for a greedy, backstabbing lawyer, Frank (Robert Taylor), and a group of corrupt politicians and policemen, three brothers, Dale (Guy Pearce), Shane (Joel Edgerton) and Mal (Damien Richardson) are three of the most successful bank robbers Australia has ever seen, always trying to pull jobs without violence. Now though they've been caught and are serving time, but Frank has a plan, a heist that will net them $20 million dollars while they're "on parole." None of the brothers, especially Dale, thinks much of it, but they're basically blackmailed into the spot. Their goal? Take down the gambling winnings from the Melbourne Cup, but with Frank sleeping with Dale's wife, Carol (Rachel Griffiths), nothing goes off quite as planned. Now all that's to be decided is whether the brothers can get out alive.

Not as a judgment against Australian films, but there is something indescribably odd crime drama. It is violent and harsh, but it also has some out of left field comedic moments (most of them incredibly dark and twisted). Director Scott Roberts must have had a lot of ideas brewing in his head, and he throws it all together. The weirdness of all those different elements have a surprising affect in that they work. How? Oh, I have no idea, but it does. Maybe because it is so genuinely different and unique, but I went along with it. Part of me didn't always believe what I was watching, and another part might not have even liked certain parts of the movie. Still, it's weird but that good sort of weird.

What works through and above and around that weirdness is the camaraderie we see among the three brothers. In jail or not, working a job, eating a meal, I believed in them. They have a bond that would be hard to fake. They bitch and moan at each other but all the while want what's best for the others. When Shane gets sick and is almost left behind, Dale and Mal fake a similar illness and stick around with him, putting the job off for a little. So we have these three brothers who are extremely close, and they just happen to be good at....robbing banks. They're good at it but never seem to have any money, constantly needing a new, better job. Pearce, Edgerton and Richardson are the best things going for the movie, all three brothers coming across as believable. And more on this later, but they're some of my favorite characters...the doomed variety.

Sifting through the odd comedy and off the wall, scatter-brained storytelling is the basis of a great crime drama featuring many aspects of a 1940s film noir. Those aspects are when the movie is moving along at a good pace, knowing where it wants to go. Griffiths as Carol is the femme fatale, a beautiful, smart and sexy woman who's going to do what she needs to do to survive. She loves Pearce's Dale but also knows she has to make it on her own while he's inside. Taylor as the slimy Frank is the real villain, the conniving lawyer who will no doubt get what he deserves in the end. There's also the insane hired gun, Tarzan (Dorian Nkono), the damaged but still strong woman, Jane (Rhondda Findleton), Shane's love interest and psychiatrist, and of course, the two corrupt cops (Paul Sonkkila and Vince Colosimo). All it needed was black and white film, some cigarette smoke hanging in the air, and some shadows here and there and we're talking full-on 40s noir.

Now almost from the start, the three brothers are pegged as the tragic characters, doomed individuals who have no way out from the predicament they find themselves in. The momentum keeps building, and the story seems destined to end that way. Heist movies have taught us that. The heist is almost always the easy part. The aftermath is where things get bloody. Even following the job, it seems like the movie will go one way but doesn't. That disjointed feel, the bizarre attempts at humor, it all stops the ending from being a classic. It ends on a surprising attempt at a laugh. It works while still managing to feel out of place. The movie is really a mess, but I can't help but like it.

The Hard Word <---quasi-trailer (2002): ***/****

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