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The Hard Word (R)
Lion’s Gate Films
Official Site
Director: Scott Roberts
Producers: Al Clark, Gareth Jones, Hilary Davis
Written by: Scott Roberts
Cast: Guy Pearce, Rachel Griffiths, Robert Taylor, Joel Edgerton, Damien Richardson

Rating: out of 5

When you first see Rachel Griffiths come onto the screen in The Hard Word, you immediately realize what’s wrong with the movie. Griffiths plays Carol, the wife of professional armed robber Dale (Pearce), and the problem can be seen in the blonde wig she wears. It’s not that the wig looks fake. It’s not even out of place in this heist movie/pseudo-Notorious knockoff hybrid. What’s wrong exactly is that the wig perfectly illustrates just how simple director Roberts seems to think making a hard-boiled adventure is. In his mind, he seems to have decided on a formula: Take three criminal brothers who are really just decent, genial blokes trying to make a living, add a platinum gangster’s moll whose loyalties are reliably ambiguous, throw in a bit of the shady fence character who doesn’t realize that he’s not the only one doing the double-crossing, shake, bake, and serve.

The Hard Word is neither hard-boiled nor hard-at-work. Made in Australia with an entirely Aussie cast, the film comes across as a mish-mash of clichés from the American crime caper and the folksy British social comedy. Think of a bloodier, more painfully “clever” The Full Monty, and you have the general idea. Roberts (who, as both director and screenwriter, has to suffer the auteur’s burden of taking sole blame) seems more concerned with constructing Mamet-clone dialogue (The most excruciating example? One character asks where some stolen money is stashed, only to be answered, “I stuck it up a cow’s ass.” His reply? “Well I hope you washed your hands afterward.”) than with structuring a plot that the audience can actually care about.

The plot he does come up with doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. And I don’t mean that it’s convoluted. We’re talking common sense. The Twentyman brothers (Pearce, Edgerton, and Richardson) are released from prison at the behest of their crooked lawyer, Frank (Taylor) so that he can get them to pull One Last Job. They find themselves back behind bars soon, though, because of some “paperwork technicalities.” Frank springs them out once again, under one condition? Can you guess? Yep, One Last Job. Again. The catch this time, though, is that Frank has also hired a pair of local criminals to oversee the job. Complications arise, not the least of which is the fact that Carol has been cheating on Dale with Frank, for reasons which are murky until the end. The story that follows is notable only for a scene featuring death-by-lava-lamp, and the music, which often sounds like something you might hear playing in a head shop run by Atom Egoyan. And when the soundtrack and a single death scene are the only things a film has going for it, that’s a problem.

Ultimately, The Hard Word is disposable, and not in a fun, garbage-as-treat kind of way. It aspires to the level of heist films like Ocean’s Eleven and The Sting. But it winds up settling into late-night cable territory.

—Cole Sowell


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