The Hard Word

on June 13, 2003 by Michael Tunison
Most heist flicks are all about the plot curveballs and sudden reversals, and on this score “The Hard Word” doesn't stand out as an especially original caper. Still, with actors as commanding as the extraordinarily adaptable Guy Pearce and Rachel Griffiths leading the cast, this Australian import's emphasis on strong, affectionately drawn characters gives it an emotional pull rare for the genre.

The story revolves around three career-criminal brothers--smart guy Dale (“Memento's” Pearce), serene meat cook Mal (actor/playwright Damien Richardson) and loose cannon Shane (Joel Edgerton from “Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones”)--who are part of a robbery ring operated out of a prison with the cooperation of crooked local authorities. The brothers' bold, non-lethal rip-off style has made everyone lots of dough, but things take a turn for the dangerous when their lawyer/heist planner (Robert Taylor from “The Matrix”) gets a little too greedy in setting up the proverbial Last Big Job. It doesn't help that he's also been moving in on Dale's calculating wife (Griffiths) during the boys' most recent stretch behind bars.

While much of the storyline is boilerplate crime movie fare, screenwriter Scott Roberts' directorial debut shows a remarkable willingness to take character-driven detours along the way, resulting in an unpredictable if sometimes uneven ride. Chameleonic star Pearce presides over it all with the confidence and intensity that make him one of the most compelling leading men out there, while the equally expert Griffiths (HBO's “Six Feet Under”) seems to relish every frame of her against-type turn as a delightfully conniving blond bombshell whose heart of gold is available for purchase at the right price. Elements such as Roberts' quirky narrative indulgences and the crooks' sometimes indecipherably thick Down Under accents may throw certain viewers from the Northern Hemisphere, but it would be hard not to feel something for such a lively outlaw crew. Starring Guy Pearce, Rachel Griffiths, Robert Taylor, Joel Edgerton and Damien Richardson. Directed and written by Scott Roberts. Produced by Al Clark. A Lions Gate release. Action/Drama. Rated R for strong violence, language, sexuality and brief drug use. Running time: 101 min

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