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An affliction of many Australian movies these days is the desire to include rampant Australiana in just about every scene; usually not a minute goes by without a reference to kangaroos and koalas, AC/DC or hot barbeques with shrimp. The word “mate” is mentioned more than we’ve spoken it in our whole lives, and at some point a character is seen either holding or kicking a footy. While there is genuine support for the film industry Down Under to forge its own unique identity, resorting to clichéd stereotypes is arguably not the greatest way to go about it.

The thing about The Postcard Bandit is that the subject matter doesn’t tend to allow the filmmakers to stray from iconic Australian content. The story itself is indicative of the laid-back nature and cheeky arrogance of those from the Southern Hemisphere, so it comes as no surprise that you can instantly tell this is a local production. Thankfully, it works.

Postcard Bandit, The
Based on the Derek Pedley novel No Fixed Address, the film tells the story of Brenden James Abbot, a social misfit with a penchant for robbing banks. It is a tale based on actual events, with the real Abbot supposedly sending postcards to the chasing authorities after each of his successful heists, hence the name. In the film he carries with him a number of accomplices, unceremoniously dumping them at various stages along the way. He also manages to possess a way with women (not to mention a strange relationship with his mother), and again has no hesitation leaving them behind as he runs from the authorities.

One of his sidekicks just happens to be his brother, which is where we eventually see the caring side to the unscrupulous Abbot. He shows great reluctance to bring him on board at first, preferring to send him home down a much safer career path but still keeping him on hand to source supplies. Most of the movie surrounds their relationship, as well as the story of the chasing police forces from various Australian states. It is not until they decide to band together that the case gathers any momentum. Abbot is a slippery little sucker, that’s for sure.

The story is essentially a road movie without the roads. Abbot moves from location to location, with a quick subtitle letting us know his current location and the time frame in which he is working. The narrative jumps around a little as pieces of information are fed to the viewer at various stages, but for the most part we are just along for the ride as Abbot terrorises banks across the country. But somehow we care for the bugger; his softer side is apparent many a time, and the cheeky way he tends to go about everything is strangely endearing.

As mentioned, there is no shortage of references to seventies and eighties Australian culture. Everything from the Southern Cross, cold beer, and Holden Cars to Tom Roberts, Mark Waugh and Christopher Skase is given a run, leaving no doubt as to the origins of the tale. The soundtrack is also filled with local talent, mainly James Reyne, who makes a brief cameo in one of the more memorable moments from the film.

Postcard Bandit, The
The production actually aired as a telemovie in Australia in the middle of 2003, though the only signs of it being made for television are the fades to black which represent where the ad breaks would have been. Thankfully there are no interruptions here, and the piece holds its own as a pseudo-feature quite well. Much of the credit has to go to Tom Long, who gives Abbot such deep characterisation that you can’t help but think he’s a good bloke in the wrong line of “work”. A long way from his raw up-and-comer in the brilliant Risk, long proves he’s more than just a one-character actor.

The support cast also don’t disappoint. We are finally treated to an Aussie film without Bill Hunter or Marshall Napier as police officers, so the replacements here gain more mileage and credibility largely because they’re unknowns. The women in the film chime in for brief periods, but each time their performances are top notch. Helen Dallimore steps out of her comfort zone with stunning results as Abbot’s first love (and mother to his child) Gina, while Tasma Walton sizzles in one hell of a massage scene. More than that, though, Walton shows she’s capable of much more than just showing her bits.

For a film about a bank robber there’s actually very little action inside the banks themselves. With a small budget it’s no surprise, but this trick tends to work as we are given more time with the characters and less low-grade heist setups that would never have worked for a film of this scale anyway. In the end it’s a great little tale which gains speed and doesn’t let up. Sprinkled with a little comedy (including a very odd moment with a cattle prod), the somewhat flippant nature of Abbot’s criminal acts is mirrored in the narrative. And we’ll happily go along for the ride.

Being made for television the grade of the visuals isn’t the cleanest we’ve ever seen, but for an old-style crime flick this isn’t such a bad thing. The 1.78:1 widescreen transfer looks solid, strides better than during its television appearance. Grain is prevalent throughout and is definitely noticeable, yet the rest of the usual issues with lower grade TV productions are evident here. Colours are average and sharpness is adequate without being startling, so in all the transfer is probably to be expected. This isn’t the kind of film which will improve from a better looking image, so the average visuals don’t really matter with this disc.

Postcard Bandit, The
All we get here is a Dolby 2.0 Stereo track, but for the most part it does the job. Obviously the action sequences and the home-grown soundtrack could have done with a boost from the rears and the sub, yet the rest of the film sits perfectly well in the front. Dialogue is always clear (providing you can decipher the Aussie drawl easily enough – no problem for us locals) and the levels are consistent throughout. There’s very little else to say about this mix. It has its limitations, naturally, but again it’s nothing to get too disappointed about.

Included on the disc are a couple of extras to add a little value to the package. First up is the director’s commentary from Tony Tilse, which actually features cinematographer Mark Wareham as well. No mention is made of him in the menu, which is a little snub for poor Mark! Also, when you select the commentary (you can only get to it from the menu – no manual switching during the film unfortunately) the title actually says the commentary is for the bonus scenes. Sloppy.

The first few minutes is footage of the pair talking about how they came on board for the film, before they kick off the film and continue the discussion. It is a very relaxed track with very few gaps overall, so for fans of the film this should add a lot more to your appreciation. There’s a lot of anecdotal elements to the track, and being a local production it only becomes more interesting when they talk about locations you are very familiar with. That’s not to say international viewers won’t enjoy it, as you’ll pick up even more about the culture from the two participants.

The other major extra is a collection of three bonus scenes, all with forced commentary from Tilse and Wareham (you can’t choose not to hear their voices). The first scene is a moment with Abbot and his brother, which Tilse manages to talk over initially. The second scene shows the emotional side to Abbot once again, while the third scene gives us more of the alluring Tasma Walton. Tilse let’s us hear half of the dialogue after he stops talking, but one can’t help but think it was a lazy decision not to separate the commentary from the main audio and give viewers a choice.

Rounding out the small package is an image gallery of no more than eleven images (including some cracking shots of Dallimore) and the trailer. One presumes the trailer was constructed after the film was complete and didn’t ever air on TV, as it features a bunch of swearing and some nudity that wouldn’t go down with the local censors. It’s more like a highlight reel, so be sure not to take a peek before you see the main feature. Overall it’s a pretty slight package, but for this kind of production it’s just great to see we have a couple of decent inclusions to give us some value.

Postcard Bandit, The
The Postcard Bandit ends up being a surprisingly entertaining look at an endearing criminal and the characters he picks up over the journey. More a rock-and-roll style personality piece than an out-and-out cop show, the film (or telemovie, technically) features a standout performance from Tom Long and a supporting cast who chime in brilliantly along the way. The disc itself is not bad for a smaller scale production, though a few shortcomings here and there weigh it down a little. Still well worth picking up for a decent price, though, so don’t hesitate to go out and grab it.