Three prisoners are about to be released on bail--Dale, Mal and Shane--the Twentyman brothers. Hard experience and an unspoken bond of family have made them masters of their craft--armed robbery. It's a job and they do it because they're good at it. Their only rule is, no one gets hurt. Keeping the wheels of crime turning is their long-time criminal lawyer, Frank Malone, who combines flashy arrogance with a complete disregard for the proper process of the law. Frank's network of contacts enables him to play the brothers and the system to perfection. But success has clearly gone to his head when he starts screwing Dale's wife, Carol. Dazzled by her physical attractiveness, Frank has severely underestimated the brain beneath the blonde hair. Carol is one of life's greatest operators and she is determined to get what's hers. The brothers are out on bail, only long enough to do one job before they are back behind bars because of a problem with the "paperwork." Of course Frank will get them out of jail, but there's a catch. They must do a really big job--if it is to be their last. Dale's festering suspicion about Frank's motives, and a severe bout with food poisoning, create an impossible situation leading up to a multi-million dollar heist. The job is to take place in Melbourne. To the displeasure of the three brothers, Frank has lined-up some local criminals to work with them. Up against the wall and with no way out, the guys proceed with the ambitious robbery, despite some dark misgivings. When it all goes wrong, the brothers discover the full extent of Frank's treachery as they make a desperate escape from the surrounding havoc. Breaking free of Melbourne in a hijacked car, the brothers have plenty of time to think as they drive the long road back to Sydney. Although they have the money, they know Frank will not be far behind. And he isn't--and neither is Carol.
This action-comedy heist film is amusingly gamy, an anecdotal crime film that's an antidote to the pile of overly slick robbery pictures of the last few years. Unlike such gaudy, gleaming toys, in which the hoods have access to so many devices and fleets of automobiles that you wonder why they couldn't just retire on what they're spending on pulling off the crimes, the Australian-based film is set in a trough of despair. It features a few tart rip-off scenes and a performance of back-alley bravura by Guy Pearce in the lead as Dale, the thinking-man's hood who is the oldest of the Twentyman brothers, three accomplished thieves who are just about to be set free on bail. Their lawyer, the scheming, perfectly exfoliated Frank (Robert Taylor), who's arranging their release, has also set up a bank job for them and turns against them by its end. The rest of the film involves the brothers' getting pulled into another robbery after getting out of the joint, and using it to plot their comeback. "The Hard Word" is a series of snatches and betrayals, with a couple of surprises that aren't terribly hard to figure out. But it has the asset of a grimy, slightly mildewy atmosphere — a believably dank ripeness that's reminiscent of the British crime films of the 1960's. — Elvis Mitchell
2003-06-13 | Elvis Mitchell | Read the New York Times Review of The Hard Word