Small-time criminals, crooked cops and government investigators inhabit "Gettin' Square," a cleverly scripted, very Australian crime comedy. Classy sophomore outing from director Jonathan Teplitzky is a feel-good combination of suspense and laughs distinguished by superb performances.

Small-time criminals, crooked cops and government investigators inhabit “Gettin’ Square,” a cleverly scripted, very Australian crime comedy. A fine choice to open the Brisbane Film Festival, this classy sophomore outing from director Jonathan Teplitzky (“Better Than Sex”) is a feel-good combination of suspense and laughs distinguished by superb performances. With savvy marketing and anticipated critical support, this tasty item stands a good chance to find box office success as well as overseas interest and ancillary afterlife in what has been a tough year for Aussie offerings.

Although the situations in the script are not new, Chris Nyst’s characters and salty dialogue add freshness and energy. Nyst, a criminal defense lawyer in Queensland for many years, brings warmth and sympathy to his colorful low-lifers. The result is a character-driven film in which every detail rings true.

With a nod to film noir classics like Robert Siodmak’s “Criss Cross” (1949), pic is structured around a lengthy flashback. Four masked, heavily-armed men break into an office and threaten the workers while robbing the safe. But the robbers seem confused, and one ends up seriously wounded.

Flashback six months: Barry Wirth (Sam Worthington) and Johnny “Spit” Spitieri (David Wenham) are serving time in a Brisbane prison. Barry is completing an eight-year sentence for a killing, but he swears he was framed by a crooked cop, detective sergeant Arnie DeViers (David Field). Spit is a smack addict who plans to kick the habit once he gets out, gets square, and gets some cash.

Comely parole officer Annie Flynn (Freya Stafford) helps get Barry out on parole to keep an eye on his kid brother, Joey (Luke Pegler), who has started working for Chicka Martin (Gary Sweet), a powerful gangster. Spit is paroled, too.

Meanwhile, another former jailbird, Darren Barrington (Timothy Spall), is also trying to leave his past behind him. Darren has invested his ill-gotten gains into a gaudy restaurant, Texas Rose, and has hired sleazy accountant Warren Halliwell (Steven Tandy) to handle the rest of his loot. Unfortunately, Warren’s jealous wife catches him with his secretary, and alerts investigators of his money laundering activities.

Barry gets a job as chef for Darren, while Spit, who works as Darren’s bag man, is hauled up before a government enquiry and forced to give evidence, in one of the film’s best sequences.

The plotting may be convoluted, but by the time the robbery sequence is seen again, the stage is set for a satisfying ending.

Worthington, best known for playing the ill-fated brother in “Bootmen,” is a likable hero and a convincing tough guy. British actor Spall is in splendid form as Darren, and there’s top support from Field, as the odious DeViers, and Sweet as the treacherous Chicka. Stafford, a newcomer to film, brings warmth and sensuality to the role of the seen-it-all parole officer.

But, film is stolen by Wenham, who starred in “Better Than Sex.” The versatile actor here plays the shifty addict with rare comic ability.

Handsomely packaged production includes striking photography, shot on location in Brisbane and the Gold Coast by Garry Phillips; razor-sharp editing by Ken Sallows and propulsive music by MGF (Machine Gun Fellatio).

Gettin' Square

Australia-U.K.

Production

A Hoyts Distribution release (in Australia) of a Nine Films & Television, Universal Pictures, Macquarie Nine Films & Television Investment Fund, Working Title Films presentation of a Mushroom Pictures, Working Title Films, Freshwater Pictures production. Produced by Martin Fabinyi, Tim White, Trish Lake. Co-producer, Chris Nyst. Executive producers, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Michael Gudinski, Kris Noble. Co-executive producers, Hugh Marks, Jeannie Hughes. Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky. Screenplay, Chris Nyst.

Crew

Camera (color), Garry Phillips; editor, Ken Sallows; music, MGF; production designer, Nicholas McCallum; art director, Jen O'Connell; costume designer, Jackline Sassine; sound (Dolby Digital), John Schiefelbein; assistant director, Chris Webb; casting, Greg Apps. Reviewed at Hoyts-Village-Greater Union multiplex, Sydney, Aug. 14, 2003. (In Brisbane Film Festival -- opening film.) Running time: 101 MIN.

With

Barry Wirth - Sam Worthington Johnny Spitieri - David Wenham Darren Barrington - Timothy Spall Annie Flynn - Freya Stafford Arnie DeViers - David Field Chicka Martin - Gary Sweet Joey Wirth - Luke Pegler Niall Toole - David Roberts Craig "Crusher" Knob - Richard Carter Con Katsakis - Mitchell Butel Dennis Obst - Gary Waddell Lenny Morrison - John Brumpton Marion Barrington - Helen Thompson Big Mick - Joe Bugner Jack Cullan - Ugly Dave Gray Warren Halliwell - Steven Tandy Richard Dent - Jonathan Biggins Rhonda Halliwell - Gretel Killeen

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