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Three fraternal bank robbers languishing in jail, discover a profitable (if not dodgy) way to spend their time. Crime can most certainly pay, if you "know wot I mean?" However when sex and greed rear-up between the good crims and the bad cops, the consequences are both bizarre and fatal. Written by
Noel C. Bailey <email@example.com>
The films title 'The Hard Word' is a reference to the type of Aussie slang (Cant or Cryptolect language) the films main protagonists use when they would communicate with one another in prison or "on the job". This language is known as Retchab Klat (Rech-tub kay-lat) 'Butcher Talk'. Words spelt backwards with digraphs and plurals kept intact. It was developed as a form of communicating between butchers to either ogle or make fun of certain customers and not draw attention. It is an old time butchers language that is still used in some small country Australian towns to this day. See more »
'The Hard Word' is an excellent, well-paced Australian movie, straddling the genres of the American noir caper film and the British thick-ear crime drama. Some of the sequences in this movie remind me of scenes in 'The Asphalt Jungle', 'The Killing', 'La Jetee', the Peter Sellers comedy 'Two-Way Stretch' and even 'Eating Raoul' ... but 'The Hard Word' is definitely a one-off original, and it's very good.
The early scenes in this film take place in the Australian prison system. I've done some prison time Down Under (in my original name, before I changed it), and I found these scenes extremely realistic. Seppos and Poms (Yanks and Brits) will have difficulty understanding the Strine slang in this movie; for instance, when an inmate shouts 'Half yer (expletive) luck!', it's not instantly clear to non-Australians that this means 'I wish I was half as lucky as you.' Also, American audiences will be confused by this movie's references to racetrack 'bookies'. In Australia (as in Britain, but unlike in the States), bookies are lawful businessmen ('turf accountants') who privately take bets at sporting events, as independent contractors.
And most confusing of all for audiences outside Australia: some of the dialogue in 'The Hard Word' is spoken in 'butcher talk'. This is never explained in the movie, so I'll reveal that butcher talk (or 'rehctub klat') is the dialect used by (real-life) Australian criminals for covert conversations in public ... in which every word is spoken BACKWARDS, very rapidly. Even if you know the secret, you won't understand a conversation in 'butcher' unless you've practised a lot. (In Britain, criminals have a gimmick called 'backslang' which is a simpler version of the same thing.) Several times in 'The Hard Word', the dialogue is brilliantly ambiguous, carrying two meanings at the same go.
Three felons are released on the same day: violent Dale, easy-going Malcolm and Pepsi-swilling mother-obsessed Shane. (The dialogue identifies them as brothers; they don't look remotely alike, but that line explains why they stick together no matter what.) As soon as they get out, our lads participate in an armoured-car robbery that's been set up by their crooked lawyer Frank ... but Frank might be setting them up for a fall. And while the lads were 'inside', Frank has been having a go with Dale's sexy wife Carol. Rachel Griffiths, who plays Dale's wife, is not conventionally beautiful ... but in this film she gives one of the sexiest performances I've ever seen on screen.
SLIGHT SPOILERS COMING. There are some eye-catching frame compositions in this film; all credit to director/scripter Scott Roberts. But several pieces of business seem to be set up only to create odd images on screen. A rival gangster lures Dale into a trap by disguising himself as Dale's wife and then hiding in their bed with a gun; I found this wildly unlikely. Frank kills another gangster by cramming a lava lamp into his mouth: no blood, no broken teeth; just an interesting visual composition. One long sequence takes place inside a restaurant shaped like a giant cow.
An actor named Robert Taylor (doesn't he know that this name's been used before?) is very good as Frank, the brothers' crooked lawyer. Frank dies a horrible death. How to get rid of the corpse? We know that Malcolm is handy with a sausage-grinder, and in the next scene we see him grilling some FRANK-furters on the barbie. That pun is no coincidence. (Damien Richardson is a revelation as Malcolm.)
On several occasions, the crooks jeopardise their own well-planned caper by brawling or arguing; I found this a very accurate depiction of criminal behaviour. Yet there's one very implausible plot twist during the robbery at the Melbourne Cup, when Shane is supposed to open a locked door by typing a 4-figure number into a numeric keypad ... but a henchman named Tarzan insists on doing it himself, even though he's dyslexic. Doesn't Tarzan realise that his dyslexia disqualifies him from this job? Sure enough, he mucks it up.
During the caper sequences, I kept expecting to see the cliché shot from every caper film ... when a swag-bag rips open, and banknotes go flying in all directions. Blessedly, that hackneyed image never came. For most of its length, 'The Hard Word' commendably avoids clichés. I thought Rhondda Findleton quite sexy as an anger-management counsellor with a semi-Louise Brooks hairbob, but I was annoyed when her character became that prison-movie cliché: the sexy female prison staffer who goes home every night and can get any man she wants on the outside, yet who becomes sexually involved with one of the inmates a few minutes after she meets him! I couldn't believe that this woman would be having sex with Shane ... it would have been much more plausible if she had merely **led him on**, arousing herself with his sexual frustration while offering him no release.
At the very end of this flick, the three brothers and Carol are striding purposefully towards the camera. 'Please', I thought, 'please do NOT commit that horrible cliché of freeze-framing the final shot.' Instead of a freeze-frame, the final image went into a slo-mo ... which is also a cliché, but not quite so hackneyed yet. Despite a few complaints, I'm vastly impressed with this highly entertaining movie. I'll rate 'The Hard Word' 8 points out of 10. Nice one, cobber!
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