Hard-boiled entertainment is leavened with a distinctively Aussie sense of humor in "The Hard Word," a slick genre item from writer-director Scott Roberts. With Guy Pearce as a veteran bank robber, Rachel Griffiths as his tarty wife, and a strong supporting cast, there's every indication this Al Clark production will perform well on its home turf.

Hard-boiled entertainment in the Tarantino mold is leavened with a distinctively Aussie sense of humor in “The Hard Word,” a slick genre item from first-time writer-director Scott Roberts. With a bearded, tough-as-nails Guy Pearce top-billed as a veteran bank robber, Rachel Griffiths as his tarty, opportunistic wife, plus a strong supporting cast and some fast-paced action and grim jokes, there’s every indication this Al Clark production will perform well on its home turf, with a decent chance of international bookings and healthy ancillary action.

Though there’s nothing much new in Roberts’ screenplay, which deals with a trio of larcenous brothers, a crooked lawyer, corrupt cops and an ambitious plan to pull off a spectacular robbery, there’s enough freshness and invention, plus a very likeable cast, to ensure the familiar plot points are given a bright, polished look.

The Twentyman brothers, Dale (Pearce), Mal (Damien Richardson) and Shane (Joel Edgerton) are all serving time for robbery. Dale is the oldest and most intelligent of the three; Mal, a butcher by profession, is a sweet-natured softie while Shane tends to be unstable and quick-tempered.

The brothers’ smarmy attorney, Frank Malone (Robert Taylor), in league with a couple of corrupt Sydney police officers (Vince Colosimo, Paul Sonkkila), has an apparently foolproof plan to carry out a series of bank robberies. To this end, Malone has arranged for the trio to be freed from prison from time to time, as part of a day release program. They then carry out a robbery, pass the loot on to Malone, and return to their cells.

The brothers’ rule: No violence. So far everything has worked well; after 12 such robberies over a period of two years, they’ve amassed a considerable nest egg. Still, Dale suspects — rightly, as it turns out — that his wife, Carol (Griffiths), is sexually involved with Malone, and he fears a double-cross.

When their sentences come to an end, Malone tells the brothers they’ll get their money only if they agree to carry out one last heist — an ambitious plot to rob bookies after the running of the Melbourne Cup, Australia’s premier horse race. Since this means working in an unfamiliar city Malone supplies the brothers with some backup; an employee of the racetrack who has inside information, plus a couple of gunmen (Kim Gyngell, Dorian Nkono).

The robbery is successful, but this time, thanks to the trigger-happy goons, there’s the murder and mayhem galore. Suddenly, the brothers are on the run, pursued by both their so-called partners and the Melbourne police. They manage to get away hanks to the help of a tipsy racegoer, charmingly played by Kate Atkinson, who is almost instantly attracted to Mal. But, once they make it back to Sydney, there are quite a few scores to settle.

The writer of two Brit pics, “The American Way” (1986) and “K-2″ (1992), Roberts seems comfortable with local idioms and black comedy, and his direction, with solid support from a top technical team starting with d.p. Brian Breheny, is fluid.

Pearce is highly engaging as the hard-boiled Dale, while Griffiths extends her comedic range as the outrageous Carol, whose life revolves solely around sex and money.

Taylor is suitably smarmy as the duplicitous attorney, while the other cast members — including Rhondda Findleton as a prison psychiatrist who finds herself strangely attracted to the loopy Shane — are on the button. Atkinson is so good in her small role that you’re left wanting to see more of her character.

The Hard Word

The Hard Word

Market / Australia-U.K.

Production

A Roadshow release (in Australia) of an Australian Film Finance-Alibi Films presentation of a Wildheart production. (International Sales: Alibi Films Intl., London.) Produced by Al Clark. Executive Producers, Gareth Jones, Hilary Davis. Directed, written by Scott Roberts.

Crew

Camera (Cinevex color; Super 35mm Panavision widescreen), Brian Breheny; editor, Martin Connor; music, David Thrussell; production designer, Paddy Reardon; art director, Jeff Thorp; costume designer, Terry Ryan; sound (Dolby digital), John Schiefelbein; assistant director, Brendan Campbell; casting, Ann Robinson. Reviewed at Village-Roadshow screening room, Sydney, March 13, 2002. (In Cannes Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Dale Twentyman - Guy Pearce Carol Twentyman - Rachel Griffiths Frank Malone - Robert Taylor Shane Twentyman - Joel Edgerton Mal Twentyman - Damien Richardson Jane Moore - Rhondda Findleton Pamela - Kate Atkinson Det. Mick Kelly - Vince Colosimo Det. Jack O'Riordan - Paul Sonkkila Paul - Kim Gyngell Tarzan - Dorian Nkono

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