The Hard Word Movie Review

The snappy caper: A planned-to-a-T, multi-million dollar racetrack robbery wrought with the danger of a double-cross.

The snappy cast: A sharp cadre of Aussies led by Guy Pearce and Rachel Griffiths (two of that country's finest acting exports) as a magnetically smug life-long greaseball and his playing-both-sides-against-her-own-middle tart of a disloyal wife.

The practical upshot: "The Hard Word" is a wily, performance-driven heist-gone-wrong picture with shrewd underworld savvy reminiscent of "Snatch" without the smug self-awareness.

From his first moment on screen Pearce is, well, piercing as Dale Twentyman, "the smart one" of three brothers freshly sprung from prison and back at the trade for which they have a perfect track record: "12 jobs, no slip-ups, no body hurt."

First seen through a prison library window, watching with amused contempt as a bunch of thugs play full-contact basketball in the yard, Pearce looks nothing like the handsome (if sometimes gritty), leading-man roles he's known for in the US ("L.A. Confidential," "Memento," "The Time Machine"). His eyes are darty, smirking and sunken in sockets darkened by sleeplessness. His hair is uncut and slicked back. He has a pronounced underbite with a jutting chin, clenched with a charismatic conceit and covered by a trimmed but scruffy beard.

Dale is a complete character from cool demeanor to dirty fingertips as he leads his younger brothers -- ingenuous dreamer Mal and bellicose ruffian Shane (played with equal theatrical submersion by Damien Richardson and Joel Edgerton) -- on a quickie armored car robbery that gets the clan double-crossed and on wanted posters.

"I've a got a million bucks I can't get my hands on and a lawyer who's f**king my wife," Dale complains matter-of-factly after realizing he's been set up.

But that pinstriped shark with a dirty-money lifestyle and news-anchor hair (Robert Taylor) offers a way out in the form of One Last Big Heist to finance their escape from justice: They'll hit the bookies with their bags full of cash at the end of the Melbourne Cup, the biggest horse race in Australia.

Writer ("K2") and first-time director Scott Roberts infuses "The Hard Word" with a stimulating vigor of post-modern noir elements and light-hearted dark humor as the racetrack heist goes awry. The Twentyman boys are forced by their partner to bring in a fourth thief -- a dyslexic brute called Tarzan (Dorian Nikono) whose volatile temper turns the job into a bloodbath.

The story doesn't closely adhere to the heist movie template, sending the brothers on a strange getaway road trip with an unsuspecting (and very tipsy) spectator from the racetrack (Kate Atkinson) -- a girl that sensitive Mal falls for on first sight, only to be disappointed in a simple, un-movie-like twist of fate. Dale's wife keeps coming into play as well since they can't resist each other's animal sex drive, even though he wouldn't trust her any further than he could toss her.

Decked out in feathered hair, snakeskin miniskirts and glossy lip-liner, and daintily snorting dabs of cocaine from her manicured fake fingernails, Griffiths (best known Stateside for HBO's "Six Feet Under" and wifely roles in "The Rookie" and "Blow") lends sexy, slutty, low-class relish to the role that adds immeasurably to the picture's persimmon personality.

Although occasionally derailed by awkwardly untenable plot elements (what's with the prison shrink who begins mothering Shane to the degree of actually breast-feeding him?), "The Hard Word" is absolutely entertaining in its ironic criminal wit and unscrupulous charm.


The Hard Word Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, LIMITED: Friday, June 27, 2003


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