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Nac enoyna dnatsrednu tahw m’I gniyas?

Probably not. The words are just backwards, so read it again. That’s “butcher’s speak”, a gimmick used in The Hard Word to highlight a certain bond between three brothers, their father a butcher himself. Apparently originating from the convicts of New South Wales and the like, this pseudo-language remains only among butchers who can communicate with each other from within the tiled floors of their shops without fear of any eavesdropping. In other words, they can bitch about their customers all they like.

But does this quirky device translate into an entertaining film? S’tel ekat a kool...

Movie
The three brothers in question all carry the obligatory unique traits; Dale (Guy Pearce) is the smart leader of the group, Mal (Damien Richardson), the middle brother, is the sweet but stupid one and Shane (Joel Edgerton) is the youngest brother who threatens to fly off the handle at any moment, and does.

Box trifecta, race three, numbers 4, 5 & 6

We open in a prison where the brothers are just about to be released, Mal from his job as the jail butcher (partnered by a great cameo from Australian comedian Greg Fleet), Shane from teaching a fellow inmate how to lift weights and Dale from the jail’s library where he gathers all the important dirt on future “jobs” from his dodgy lawyer, Frank (Robert Taylor). Frank is a sly fella with another trick up his sleeve for the brothers, this time involving a nice, simple bank robbery.

In amongst all of this is Dale’s wife, Carol, a cunning little tart-type played to perfection by Rachel Griffiths. Carol is cheating on Dale with none other than Frank, while Frank tries to figure out a way for the boys to return to jail once the job is complete. When his plan is successful the boys must serve another stint in the slammer before, you guessed it, yet another elaborate heist. But this is the big one; the Melbourne Cup (a horse race, for those not in the know). The plan is to crash the bookies’ party at the end of the day and reap the financial rewards by the bagsful.

What follows is the old runaway robbery with a few twists and turns in between. The boys double-cross their way out of trouble at first, but not without a fight from good ol’ Frank. There are some nice touches along the way, including a couple of bit-part female characters that could well have been given a lot more screen time. Instead they are merely tools to emphasise the  boys’ manliness and ensure each of them gets a little bit on the side in the process. Both Rhondda Findleton as Shane’s counselor and Kate Atkinson as the innocent getaway driver were brief but brilliant.

Had it not been for a particularly slow third act and a very indecisive finale the film would’ve entertained far more than it does. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d seen the last of the action about three times, but first time Director Scott Roberts (who also wrote the film) manages to come up with even more of the boys’ journey for us to watch. The saving grace is a brilliant restaurant scene somewhere in the middle of all the “endings”, on par with the violent, dark and deeply humorous tone of the film overall.

Smile!

Guy Pearce puts in his usual charismatic performance, this time stooping to a working-class convict complete with jutted jaw and great Aussie drawl. Both Richardson and Edgerton prove they are destined for bigger things with their respective roles, while Griffiths seems to be enjoying herself (perhaps a little too much?) playing the dirty sex-fiend of a wife. Throw in the cameos from the females as well as an hilarious appearance from experienced comedian Kim Gyngell and the accomplished Vince Colosimo in a smaller role than expected and you’ve got yourself just the right amount of quirk and muscle to pull this one off. Perhaps Robert Taylor’s Frank needed a little more bite and flair but we’ll put that down to the inexperienced Roberts, perhaps trying to curb the cast a little and steer them away from caricature territory.

On the whole this film really works and is off-beat enough to stand out from the typical dirty-heist movies of the past. A slower-than-expected final half-hour doesn’t help the momentum at all but this is a good first up effort from Roberts, who can hopefully inject some more cracking dialogue into future screenplays. As the butcher’s would say....llew htrow a kool.

Video
Presented in 2.35:1 and 16:9 enhanced, the gritty surrounds of Melbourne and Sydney come up an absolute treat. The colour palette is naturally pretty subdued save for most of the scenes surrounding the Cup, so don’t expect anything really bright. The various blues and greys are rendered quite well and the night scenes are accompanied by some very deep blacks for good measure. The only downside is a fair amount of aliasing along the way, particularly on the boys’ T-shirts early in the film and the numerous grills and fences they come across throughout. While quite visible even to the untrained eye these instances don’t detract at all from the action so this minor faux pas can’t mar what is a solid looking visual transfer.

Audio
The film comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that does its best to pump out those few moments of pure action and flip them around the rears. Surround use is quite good, with the various gunshots, cars and atmospheric noise fitting in logically with the action on screen. Dialogue is quite clear even though the butcher-speak is predictably hard to understand (it does comes with subtitles, in case you were wondering).

Mal falls in love

Probably the best part about the audio is the musical score pieced together by a man named David Thrussell. While not being a very elaborate mix the music fits in quite nicely with the tone of the film. The bips and bops of a small brass section cover most of the quirkiness and the main theme music, while the rest of the score is taken up by some subtle orchestral work underlying the action. The subwoofer is called upon on a few occasions provide some support, further emphasising its role as the bra for your home theatre, if you get what I mean. Tub I ssergid...

Extras
What looks to be a particularly solid extras package turns out to be pretty disappointing, but there’s certainly enough here to look at. First up is a behind the scenes documentary with the obligatory interviews, clips from the film and production footage. Just your run-of-the-mill promotional piece with nothing at all out of the ordinary to really entertain.

Next up is the Director’s commentary with Scott Roberts. Boy, can you tell this guy’s never done this before? Think of this track as The Hard Word for dummies, because he’ll basically spell out every character’s motivations and the reasons for their actions throughout. When he’s not treating you like an idiot Roberts will be heaping praise on his cast or providing the odd piece of information regarding the context of the production. Definitely not the best track I’ve heard in the slightest.

But the one impressive feature of the supplements package is the isolated music score which gives us a chance to hear Thrussell’s work untainted by dialogue and sound effects. Well worth chucking on in the background while you potter around the house.

There’s also a theatrical trailer, a snappy music video for the opening theme, a storyboard to screen comparison for one of the chase sequences complete with another boring commentary from Roberts, cast & crew biographies and a text-based glossary of butcher’s speak. All in all there’s not much quality here and certainly nothing you’ll return to save for the isolated score.

The crew

Overall
There’s no doubt the cast basically makes this film. While there’s some snappy dialogue and a couple of decent action sequences Pearce, Griffiths et al have to muster all their strength to pull the film through a troublesome third act. The video transfer is marred slightly by numerous instances of aliasing, the audio is very good and the extras are disappointing even though there’s a decent amount to look at. In all it’s a pretty mixed bag but the film is definitely well worth a look. Won og d-na hcatw ti erofeb eht rehctub’s teg ay. Get it?


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