The Hard Word
review by Cynthia
Fuchs, 27 June 2003
first few minutes of The Hard Word look like lots of convict
movies. A squad of tough prisoners are balling in slow motion,
chain-link fence framing and a handheld camera evoking a slightly
grainy Nike commercial. A hard guitar track thrums in the
background, a fight breaks out, guards blows whistles and pull out
their bats. Eventually, the camera makes its way to another convict,
grim-faced and calculating, observing the melee from the library,
where he shelves books.
would be Dale (a scruffed-up Guy Pearce), eldest of the Twentyman
brothers. It so happens that hotheaded Shane (Joel Edgerton) and
sweet-natured Mal (Damien Richardson) are doing time at the same
prison, for armed robbery. Bored inside -- there's only so much
enlightenment Dale can glean from multiple readings of the Bible and
Portnoy's Complaint -- the team is just waiting for the next
gig. Arranged by their ultrashady lawyer, Frank (Robert Taylor),
it's right up their alley, armored truck robbery.
the brothers are aces: Dale plans all moves to the last fraction of
a second, and all adhere to the primary injunction, that no one gets
hurt. Personal-lives-wise, they're slightly less assured: Shane's a
little psychotic (both evidenced and undermined as he seduces his
extremely willing prison shrink [Rhondda Findleton]); Mal's more
inclined to butchering, as was their father's business, than toward
scaring and stealing from people; and Dale's fetching,
bleached-blond wife Carol (Rachel Griffiths) is screwing Frank.
While it's obvious enough that this has been going on for some time,
Dale seems disturbed to spot it (as the brothers are carted off for
the armored vehicle job, he notes Frank lighting wifey's cigarette:
cue sign of suspicion, that is, the frame lingers on Dale's dour
face through car window).
the robbery goes off well, Frank scuttles the brothers' intended
escape, and instead has them picked up on non-existent charges and
sent back to prison, where they stew and grumble. When Carol comes
to visit Dale, she performs as a typical seductress, smearing her
"I want you, baby" heat on the window between them, even
making a smiley face of it. Dale, however, is having none of this
come-on, fixated on the possibility that she's cheating; their
reflections show through one another throughout the
shot-reverse-shotting of their conversation, indicating mutual
duplicity. They're so used to using one another and anyone else who
gets in their way, they can't imagine another sort of involvement.
She denies any wrongdoing, and he can't decide whether he wants to
the wanting that drives everyone's interactions in The Hard Word.
No one is capable of generosity or trust: they all know too much.
Figuring that he has to get out in order to find out Dale threatens
Frank until the lawyer comes up with a scheme to finish off this
increasing headache once and for all (Frank seems to believe that
Carol's devotion to him, or at least his money, is for real). This
involves stealing the betting monies at The Melbourne Cup,
accompanied by a fourth man, the plainly dangerous Tarzan (Dorian
Nikona), also the only black man in sight.
standard caper movie, The Hard Word is less interested in
plotty hijinks or even clever editing and zap-pans than it is in
characters, to the point of near-abstraction. This makes them
difficult as points of identification. Writer-director Scott Roberts
says his conception of the brothers was inspired by the familial
relations of TV's Bonanza: each has a specific role,
established, more or less, by his temperament "Dale is the
smart one," says Shane, "Mal's the good one, and I'm the
f*ck-up"). Shane's matinee-idol-style looks hardly make up for
his often ugly immaturity; Mal's pleasantness is tempered by his
capacity for cruelty when called for; and Dale's jutty-jawed resolve
is complicated by Pearce's nervy performance, his glowering and
agitated refusal to give in to viewer desires for
leading-mannishness. He can be pretty, certainly, but here he's
muddled his diction and bruised his eyes, so that Dale remains
distant, taciturn and grumpy.
anger may be well disciplined or well repressed, and it might even
be genuine. Aside from his deathless loyalty to his brothers, Dale
doesn't have much investment in any of his relationships or his
endeavors, aside from a vaguely macho desire to beat the system, the
way noir heroes like to do. This loyalty throws something of
a wrench into his relationship with Carol, as the boys -- whose
experience with girls ranges from a nipple-suckling sort of
womanizing (Shane) to none at all (Mal), tend to think she's up to
something, specifically, that she'll throw them all over for cash
Dale and Carol's relationship becomes increasingly vexed, the film
grants you access to scenes he can't know about, as when she puts
off the slimy Frank. Perhaps she's having second thoughts (he's so
sludgy), but then again, maybe it's part of a broader plan, either
on her part or Dale's. Carol appears at first to embody trouble of
the femme fatale-ish variety, but she's eventually messier than this
stereotype suggests, at once ambitious, resolute, and visibly
uncertain. This makes her nearly as opaque as her man, which means
that their serial betrayals, while predictable in a convict movie,
also don't occur precisely when or how you'd expect.
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult