Scott Roberts, 2002, UK/Australia, 102 mins
Cast: Guy Pearce, Rachel Griffiths, Robert Taylor, Joel Edgerton, Damien Richardson
Starring two of Australia's most renowned actors, Guy Pearce and Rachel Griffiths, you'd expect The Hard Word to exude the class and style of their previous projects, Pearce having acted in Memento and LA Confidential while Griffiths made her mark in Hilary and Jackie and successful American TV drama Six Feet Under. Instead this is a crime caper that ultimately fails to keep you on the edge of your seat, despite its great cast and unusual storyline.
The Twentyman brothers are criminals with the motto, "No one gets hurt". But in spite of this compassionate attitude, they still end up in prison where Dale (Guy Pearce), the natural group leader, works as a librarian while Mal (Damien Richardson) practises his butcher's trade and Shane (Joel Edgerton) attempts to sort out his anger management problems with an attractive counsellor. However, any attempt to get back on the straight and narrow is thwarted by their crooked lawyer Frank (Robert Taylor) who, to make matters even more complicated, is enjoying a fling with Dale's wife Carol, played by a blonde Rachel Griffiths.
The film's key heist is after the Melbourne Cup where the gang makes plans to rob the bookies as they enjoy a few drinks with their winnings. As expected, things don't go according to plan and there are more than a few hiccups including a dyslexic criminal and an unplanned bloodbath. As the brothers realise just how crooked Frank is, Dale also starts to question his wife's fidelity and things slowly begin to heat up. But just when you think the film should be over, director Scott Roberts hits us with more twists and turns and it's all a little bit too much.
The film's numerous quirks do at least enhance the entertainment value including the use of 'butcher talk', dialect used by real-life Australian criminals for secret conversations in public, where each word is spoken backwards, quickly (subtitled for ease of understanding). What also keeps the film going is the lovability factor of the three brothers. The Twentyman trio are endearing young lads who are after a quick buck as opposed to tough nut criminals who will pay any price to get their loot.
The film's title refers to the Australian expression, 'to put the hard word on' which covers anything from a sexual proposition to a verbal threat or extortion. As producer Al Clark points out, 'All the main characters in the film (except Mal) put the hard word on each other in some way'. Even if you've never heard of 'the hard word', you will have heard of hard work - and more often than not, that's what the film feels like.