The Hard Word

The Hard Word

Australia/UK, 2002. Rated R. 102 minutes.

Cast: Guy Pearce, Rachel Griffiths, Joel Edgerton, Damien Richardson, Robert Taylor, Rhondda Findleton, Kate Atkinson, Vince Colosimo, Paul Sonkkila, Kym Gyngell, Dorian Nikona
Writer: Scott Roberts
Music: David Thrussel
Cinematographer: Brian J. Breheny
Producer: Al Clark
Director: Scott Roberts


Grade: C Review by Carlo Cavagna

Read the AboutFilm feature and interview with Guy Pearce.

What can I say about writer/director Scott Roberts' directorial debut, The Hard Word? Either you have an appreciation for Australian humor, or you don't. It relies less on farce than it does on putting exaggerated characters prone to extreme reactions in absurd situations. Guy Ritchie's British movies function similarly, but this Australian crime caper is more good-natured. Nevertheless, there isn't much about the movie that "an Australian-flavored Lock, Stock & 2 Smoking Barrels" doesn't sum up. Everybody's out for himself, but nobody's that bright. Crime pays only if you can exit unscathed from the labyrinthine maze of violence, double crosses, and ineptitude. There's even a character nicknamed "Tarzan" who "goes ape." Pushing the limits of good taste, he is black.

The story involves a trio of brothers, Dale (Guy Pearce), Mal (Damien Richardson), and Shane (Joel Edgerton), who could not be more different, begging the question of how they could all come from the same background. Quiet, unflappable Dale, the eldest, is the leader of the group. The middle brother, Mal, is a cheerful butcher/chef, while Shane, the youngest, is a good-looking nut job. When they need not to be overheard, they share some sort of Australian "butchers' dialect" that seems to combine speaking words in reverse with pig Latin.

At the beginning of the film, the three brothers are in jail and at the mercy of their sleazy lawyer Frank Malone (Robert Taylor), who orchestrates robberies for them to pull while he pays off the right people to turn a blind eye. Richardson, Edgerton, and Pearce struggle with a heavy load(It turns out that being in jail is an impregnable alibi.) Meanwhile, he sleeps with Dale's calculating wife Carol (Rachel Griffiths). Put them all in a kettle, turn up the heat, and stir. And, in this case, keep stirring past the point that the stew is cooked. The Hard Word reaches several natural stopping points but never actually ends, making it one of the longest 100-minute movies I've seen.

That The Hard Word works at all is due to the fine acting. Composed and assured, Guy Pearce (Memento, L.A. Confidential) seems to thrive in these independently minded films—perhaps it is a blessing that many of his big-budget Hollywood efforts, like The Time Machine, have been fiascos. His character is cool and wryly understated under pressure, an effective contrast to the more extreme personalities around him. Rachel Griffiths (Hilary and Jackie, The Rookie) is totally miscast as a blonde femme fatale, but she's such a fine actress that it doesn't much matter—she pulls it off much better than could be expected.

Yet The Hard Word may wind up being most notable as one of the last films Joel Edgerton makes before becoming a household name in the United States. His next film is Ned Kelly with Geoffrey Rush, Heath Ledger, Naomi Watts, and Orlando Bloom, and after that—Star Wars: Episode III. U.S. audiences have already met him in Episode II as young Owen Lars, Luke's future uncle. Other projects will include Antoine Fuqua's King Arthur. He is not a lead actor in any of these, but he should garner more notice. He's got the looks and the talent, and he should be next in the long line of Australian actors to succeed in Hollywood—a line that has, of course, included his co-stars Guy Pearce and Rachel Griffiths. The Hard Word is perhaps worth a look just to check out the next "It" Aussie.

Review © June 2003 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images 2003 Lions Gate Films. All Rights Reserved.

  Comment on this review on the boards  

  Official site
  IMDB page
  MRQE page
  Rotten Tomatoes page