The Hard Word

Director: Scott Roberts  
Guy Pearce, Rachel Griffiths, Robert Taylor

Even though the government each years wastes millions of dollars on funding unreal movies that no one wants to see, and there isn't a single Jack In The Box restaurant in any province, for the most part I am happy that I live in Canada. There are definite benefits to living here. While the majority of home grown filmmakers make crap, I at least live in a place where I have easy access to real movies made by filmmakers from different countries. And while I may not be able to order a Jumbo Jack, there are many restaurants in easy reach offering many satisfying substitutes. Add a number of true advantages like universal health care, Canada is understandably an appealing place for most residents and outsiders looking for a new country to settle in. That is not to say that Canada does not have some serious problems it has not managed to eradicate. Whenever I pick up one of the several papers published in my community, I usually see a story that illustrates one certain problem. And that problem is crime. Sometimes the crime in question is something very severe, like a murder. But more often than not, the crime that is being reported is some kind of robbery. It turns out that robberies have happened quite close to me on occasion. Several years ago, a disability organization in town where I used to volunteer my time and skills was one night looted of all its computers. Fortunately the organization was insured, but it was still a big problem for them to recover from the robbery. And the local bank where I do my various financial transactions has been robbed several times since I settled in my present apartment, which is only a block away from the bank in question.

When I look at robberies like those in my community, more often than not they share a common factor, one that explains why these robberies were enacted in the first place. There is a desperateness to the robbers, a feeling that all other options concerning solving a certain problem have gone away and that robbery is the only solution. And that certain problem is poverty. Robbers have a habit that needs to be supported, or other circumstances have created poverty and the inability to afford other necessities in life. This is certain serious stuff, something that one may not immediately find a connection with entertainment. But when it comes to the world of movies, one is presented more often than not with a world that contains robbers who are not especially in dire financial straits. Just think about it for a while. In your typical robbery movie, there is always a pre-robbery stage. The thieves in movies more often than not need equipment for a robbery, whether it's a gun for a face-to-face robbery or burglary equipment for a robbery on the sly. Your typical would be robber in a movie usually has connections and/or some cash already in hand to buy the necessary supplies, and more often than not get their supplies in short notice. Another way movie robberies are unlike real life robberies is that usually there is a heck of a lot more preparing before a robbery in a movie than many robberies in real life. Although unexpected factors can come in during the robbery in a movie, chances are that the preparing beforehand will help the robber or robbers overcome the unexpected challenge and ultimately get away with the crime - unlike many robberies in real life where the unexpected happens. Then there is the getaway from the scene of the crime. Can one be sure they have covered their tracks well enough so that they won't be tracked down by the authorities? Many times in movies the answer is yes. But if you have seen any true crime shows on TV, you will know that in most crimes in real life, the criminals leave behind evidence, evidence that under analysis can reveal to the authorities who did the crime.

As you can see from what I have discussed above, the world of robbery in the movies is more often than not a lot different than robberies in real life. Still, that does not mean a movie about a robbery can't be enjoyable. I am always up to a good caper movie, and recently I thought it The Hard Wordwas time to review another one. Though I was in the mood for something not made in a Hollywood fashion. From what I wrote in the introduction to this review, you might think I was in the mood for a Canadian heist movie. I would have liked to, even though I have done so before (Foolproof). But Canada has made few heist movies over the decades, and the one most recent and available - The Art Of The Steal - was released by a major Canadian movie distributor who put next to no muscle in its marketing and distribution to theaters despite it being blatantly commercial, and I feel such ineptness should not be rewarded by free advertising. So I looked overseas, and found something from Australia - The Hard Word. I don't think anyone associates Australian cinema with the heist genre, so you may understand why my curiousity was piqued. The events of the movie center on the Twentyman brothers, who are Dale (Pierce, Iron Man 3), Shane (Joel Edgerton, Smokin' Aces), and Mal (Damien Richardson, Rogue). Not long after the start, all three brothers have just been released from prison after serving time for armed robbery thanks to the brothers' lawyer Frank Malone (Taylor, The Matrix). Though it turns out that Frank, along with a couple of corrupt cops (played by Paul Sonkkila and Vince Colosimo), have arranged for the Twentymans to immediate pull off another robbery, with the corrupt cops afterwards sending the Twentymans back to prison so no one will suspect them. A short time later, Frank visits the Twentymans with the promise of permanent freedom if they pull off a big job he has planned. Dale doesn't want anything to do with Frank because he suspects that Frank was sleeping with his wife Carol (Griffiths, My Best Friend's Wedding) while he was in prison. But Dale sees that he and his brothers have no choice, so they reluctantly agree, even when Frank starts complicating things further such as with saddling the brothers with two new associates he's recruited. It seems that major trouble is ahead for everybody involved, and even managing to stay alive may be an iffy thing.

I must confess that before I started to watch The Hard Word, though having knowledge of the basic plot before my viewing experience, I thought that the movie would have to make more than a standard effort to win me over. That's because of the background of the central figures in the movie, the Twentyman brothers. As you no doubt saw from the plot description in the previous paragraph, they are convicted criminals, criminals who committed crimes not out of desperation but for their own selfish interests. I don't know about you, but I find it hard to sympathize with such criminals in real life as well as in movies. It can be done - The Dirty Dozen had twelve hardened criminals recruited to pull off a job, and those fellows won over its audience. However, I think the same audience that watches The Hard Word will be less enthusiastic about that movie's criminals. For starters, there is a lot about these guys that remains a mystery throughout. What were their lives like before entering criminal life? What exact crime or crimes got them jailed? We learn precious little about their backgrounds. Still, despite this lack of background, these characters still had a chance of winning us over by showing us how they think and react to various events and influences in the present. The Dirty Dozen did this. But as it turns out, the movie gives these characters very little to not only win us over, but also makes these brothers not very distinct from each other. We learn Mal has some cooking skills that he uses in the prison kitchen, and Shane has some psychological problems that result in him being assigned a prison shrink (played by Rhondda Findleton) that he manages to seduce, but that's about it when it comes to differentiating these two brothers from each other. They pretty much act alike whether they are in prison or on the outside pulling off one of their robberies.

I would like to say that actors Joel Edgerton and Damien Richardson as Shane and Mal do give enthusiastic performances throughout despite given these weakly written characters, so the two brothers are not totally without interest when they are on the screen. Guy Pierce, on the other hand, gives a more reserved performance, but to compensate he does have some natural charisma that makes you keep interest in watching his character despite the fact his character doesn't show much more depth than Shane and Mal. For example, though his character does admit some unease about his suspicions that his wife Carol is cheating on him, he seems reluctant to both discuss it with his wife and express some strong feelings about it. It doesn't help that Carol herself doesn't want to talk about it that much. There is a real unfinished feeling to this whole is-she-cheating subplot. Perhaps it is this way because writer/director Scott Roberts was afraid of losing sympathy for the character of Carol. But as it is, I wasn't quite sure what to think of this character even after the movie reached the end. Sometimes she seems like an innocent victim, other times not. Had the writing clearly defined this character one way or another, I think things would have worked much better. Even if she was not sympathetic, it possibly could have made Pierce's Dale character more sympathetic. Actually, Dale's character and his two brothers do get some sympathy because of the portrayal of Frank, the corrupt lawyer they depend on. He comes across as a real sleazebag, so sneaky and manipulative that you will really dislike him enough that you will hope that the Twentyman brothers will be able to both escape from his clutches and give him some real punishment. I should add that the big reason this character works so well is because of Robert Taylor's performance. He wisely does not go over the top with his acting, but all the same gives his character a kind of subtle mocking smirk in his words and actions that gets under your skin and makes him a villain that you will love to hate.

That's probably enough about the character and the acting. What about what else the movie has to offer? How about that Australian setting - does it give the movie a fresh spin? Well, to a degree, yes. From the different architecture to the character driving on the wrong side of the road, the movie definitely has a different look than many other caper films. The Australian slang and accents also give the movie a different sound. But for the most part, The Hard Word plays out in a way that audiences anywhere in the world will be able to relate to. Nothing wrong with that. We just ask that the movie manages to keep up a reasonable amount of interest. Unfortunately, The Hard Word will more likely make caper film audiences fidget in their seats. There isn't a terrible amount of main plot here - it's padded out way past the breaking point (one hundred and three minutes) with stuff that doesn't seem to matter, such as Mal's prison kitchen capers and Shane's affair with the prison therapist, all of which are forgotten about long before the movie reaches the end. The movie also disappoints with its action moments - that is, the few times when it decides to give its audience some action. There are only two (well, maybe three) action moments in the entire movie, and they are all flawed in their presentations. The robbery that happens in the first few minutes of the movie is directed so quickly (and edited in the same manner), that it's hard to figure out what's going on. The movie's centerpiece, the big heist sequence, is extremely rushed in both its planning by the characters and its execution. There is one brief moment in this big robbery, where the brothers are fleeing by foot, where for about a minute the tone is genuinely tense and nail-biting. But as I said, it's about only a minute of the running time. Combined with the movie's limited amount of other merit I mentioned earlier in the review, I think you can see that The Hard Word doesn't really have that much to make it worth investing time or money to watching it. If you do all the same decide to watch it, chances are that like me, you'll have some hard words to say about it to anyone interested in your opinion.

(Posted June 28, 2017)

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See also: The Five Man Army, Foolproof, Free Money