'Swerve'

Staple pulp crime ingredients -- a girl, a gun, a stranger, a crooked cop and a suitcase full of hot cash -- are neatly moved around a dusty outback town in the juicy Aussie thriller "Swerve."

Staple pulp ingredients — a girl, a gun, a stranger, a crooked cop and a suitcase full of hot cash — are neatly moved around a dusty outback town in the juicy Aussie thriller “Swerve.” Scripter-helmer Craig Lahiff’s first feature since his 2002 social drama “Black and White,” pic packs enough pace, suspense and quality thesping to overcome some minor plot wobbles. Amazingly still without a local distributor, “Swerve” has niche claims in selected territories, and should score strong ancillary action just about everywhere.

Very much in the tradition of a Jim Thompson potboiler, pic opens with two big bangs in the middle of nowhere. Speeding along a highway after detonating a bomb in his contact’s car, an unidentified drug dealer meets a spectacularly staged demise while swerving to avoid a head-on collision with distressed blonde driver Jina (Emma Booth). Stopping to help the sexy dish is Colin (David Lyons), a good-looking guy with a pressing appointment in the mining town of Broken Hill.

Deciding to do the right thing, Colin hands over the cash-filled suitcase he finds at the crash site to Frank (Jason Clarke), police boss and big man around town in the outpost of Neverest. Discovering Colin also has a military background, Frank insists he stay the night with him and his wife, who naturally turns out to be Jina.

It’s not long before Jina, whose jealous hubby likes kinky sex play, starts making bedroom eyes at Colin. With shifty local businessman Sam (Vince Colosimo) and cold-eyed villain Charlie (Travis McMahon) lurking on the sidelines, narrative slips and slides nicely once the suitcase is removed from the police station and starts changing hands.

Though credibility is somewhat strained by the ability of some characters to survive sequences in an abandoned mine shaft and on a speeding train, the execution is so confident and visually exciting most auds will be happy to simply roll along with it.

Much of the movie’s punch is derived from the elusive nature of Jina and Colin’s relationship. Booth’s fine-tuned perf keeps auds guessing as to whether the suffering wife is playing the angles on every man around her, and Lyons adroitly portrays the nice guy who apparently wants to help Jina but not bed her. Clarke ramps things up impressively as control freak Frank loses his grip when past misdemeanors come back to haunt him.

Filmed around the rocky, heat-baked Flinders Ranges in South Australia, pic sports classy widescreen imagery by lenser David Foreman. Score by Paul Grabowsky is a mixed bag. Jazzy, up-tempo early pieces don’t always mesh with the gritty drama, but his moody string arrangements later in proceedings are right on the money. Other technical work is pro.

Swerve

Australia

Production

A Duo Art production. (International sales: Moviehouse Entertainment, London.) Produced by Helen Leake, Kent Smith, Craig Lahiff. Executive producers, Mark Vennis, Gary Phillips, Bryce Menzies.

Crew

Directed, written by Craig Lahiff. Camera (color, widescreen, HD-to-35mm), David Foreman; editor, Sean Lahiff; music, Paul Grabowsky; production designer, Tony Cronin; art director, Chris Jobson; costume designer, Ruth De La Lande; sound (Dolby Digital), Pete Smith, Martyn Zub; stunt coordinators, Glen Boswell, Bernie Ledger; assistant director, Andy Power; casting, Angela Heesom. Reviewed at Melbourne Film Festival (Australian Showcase), Aug. 3, 2011. Running time: 85 MIN.

With

Jason Clarke, Emma Booth, David Lyons, Travis McMahon, Vince Colosimo, Robert Mammone, Chris Haywood, Roy Billing, Greg Stone.

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