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"THE HARD WORD"
(2003) (Guy Pearce, Joel Edgerton) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Three brothers are let out of prison so that they can pull off another heist that's been set up by their corrupt lawyer.
PLOT:
Dale (GUY PEARCE), Mal (DAMIEN RICHARDSON) and Shane Twentyman (JOEL EDGERTON) are three brothers in prison for armed robbery. When they're let out, they immediately pull another job, but it's not long before they're picked up by detectives Mick Kelly (VINCE COLOSIMO) and Jack O'Riordan (PAUL SONKKILA).

Although they end up taking the three back to prison, they're actually in cahoots with them and the brothers' corrupt lawyer, Frank Malone (ROBERT TAYLOR). He wants them to pull one last job from which they can all retire, but Dale is reluctant. After all, he's pretty sure that his wife, Carol (RACHEL GRIFFITHS), is having an affair with Frank.

Nevertheless, and to get out of prison again, he and his brothers agree to set up the next heist. The only catch is that Frank has introduced two new partners to the team, Paul (KIM GYNGELL) and the tightly wound Tarzan (DORIAN NKONO). The brothers again reluctantly agree to the change in plans, but when their lone rule of no one getting hurt is broken, they decide to hit the road for good.

Yet, Frank isn't one to give up so easily and he sets out to find the three and their stolen money. From that point on, it's anyone's guess about who will eventually get the upper hand and the last word.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Heists, by their very nature, usually require more than one criminal. Accordingly, that means that the mastermind must trust other criminal types who, by their inherent or adopted personalities, usually aren't trustworthy. When assuming the role of a viewer of such films, we - by default - become partners of sorts with the filmmakers in that we place our trust, however limited it might be, in them to tell a worthy tale.

In the latest such heist flick, "The Hard Word," such trust is broken on both sides of the screen. Thankfully, its effect on us doesn't have the lethal or penal ramifications that it does on some of the characters. Truth be told, such a let-down isn't completely horrendous on our side. It's just that the film isn't as slick, successful or good as it thinks it is.

As written and directed by Scott Roberts (making his directing debut after penning "K2"), the script presents its protagonist Dale -- Guy Pearce ("The Time Machine," "Memento") - with a series of obstacles. Not only must he pull off a heist with some outsiders he doesn't know or trust, but his lawyer, who's arranged his release from prison in exchange for a cut of the action, is also apparently having an affair with his wife.

At least he can trust his long-term partners - played by Damien Richardson ("Mallboy," "Redball") and Joel Edgerton ("Star Wars, Episode 2: Attack of the Clones," "Praise") - who just so happen to be his brothers. Of course, the former is more interested in cooking than thievery and the latter has some serious anger issues. All of which means that the odds of Dale successfully executing the heist are long at best.

While the characters and resultant performances are generally good and the writing is, for the most part, decent (including some fun lines of dialogue), there's just something about Roberts' direction that never allows the film to sizzle like it should. It's not bad, it's just lacking in enough fun, imagination and/or twists to make it stand out among the recent crowd of similar entries in the genre.

With Pearce appropriately embodying the grungy and disheveled look of his character, the film certainly has a bit more of a grittier feel to it than some of its cinematic kin, all of which is played to good effect. Some of the characters also get more introspective screen time than usual for a film like this, resulting in them seeming a bit more human and thus engaging to the viewer.

That's a good thing since the filmmaker's attempt at telling his tale eventually gets bogged down by genre conventions, some momentum problems and a general lack of urgency. For instance, Dale is upset that his wife is cheating on him with their corrupt lawyer who he knows is also plotting on having him and his brothers killed.

Yet, that doesn't frustrate, anger or motivate him as much as it should. Considering the genre's trappings, I also expected some creative or imaginative bits of retaliation or comeuppance on his part, but he seems content to wait until the chips fall where they may. I'm guessing he read the script and knew how things would turn out.

Speaking of the ending, there's a sudden reversal that takes place there that doesn't feel congruous with the character or the rest of what occurs. I wasn't sure if we were supposed to be blown away by the apparently complex twist (I wasn't) or if the anticipated reaction was supposed to be shock from the opportunistic behavior and acceptance of that by another. Either way, it simply didn't work for me and felt too contrived.

Faults aside, the performances are generally good. Pearce, as usual, rises above the material and remains as charismatic as ever. Richardson and Edgerton are good playing the two other brothers, while Rachel Griffiths ("The Rookie," "Blow") plays the femme fatale tramp bit to full effect. Only Robert Taylor ("Vertical Limit," "The Matrix") as the lawyer and Dorian Nkono ("City Loop," "Sample People") as the loose cannon partner felt a little too one-dimensional.

Yet another recent release that just feels too flat and uneventful to jump off the screen, "The Hard Word" has its moments. Yet, it never manages to steal our attention or hearts as well as was probably necessary to climb out of mediocrity. The film rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed June 6, 2003 / Posted June 27, 2003


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