The Hard Word (2002, Australia)
There’s a large slab of the early action in this crime romp that takes part in a prison but, really, it has almost as little to do with prison as The Sound of Music.
We meet the Twentyman brothers Dale (Guy Pearce), Mal (Damien Richardson) and Shane (Joel Edgerton) in Sydney’s Long Bay jail, before they are conveniently released by a very accommodating prison Governor so that they can knock over an armoured van.
The heist is arranged by the family lawyer, Frank (Robert Taylor), who has many strings to his bow. Not only does he identify the targets and finance the brothers’ many robberies (paying off crooked coppers, arranging weapons, fake uniforms and so on), he also makes sure that Dale’s wife Carol (Rachel Griffiths as a hard-bitten blonde) is not lonely at night while Dale’s in the slammer.
This version of Long Bay jail is not your conventional jail (and not just because it’s filmed largely at Melbourne’s Pentridge Prison). When Frank visits, he’s allowed to roam through the prison wherever he likes; there are some advantages, clearly, in having the Governor (and every other staff member, presumably) in your pocket. It’s also an inner-city jail where they intriguingly slaughter their own livestock, which might be a bit unusual but it’s handy as Mal, like his dad, is a butcher and can keep his hand in while he’s inside.
After a brief return to jail (to allow things like alibis to settle after the van job), the brothers are again released in time to do another robbery, this time travelling down to Melbourne to roll the bookies on Melbourne Cup Day. Frank has organised some helpers, who don’t quite respect the brothers’ motto of ‘nobody gets hurt’; it doesn’t entirely go to plan. The brothers flee back to Sydney.
The Hard Word is a quaint little crime thriller, full of twists and brotherly love and some non-brotherly love. Dale, intense and the brains of the outfit, knows that Frank and Carol are having an affair but can do little about it while he’s inside, other than immerse himself in books on rescuing relationships. Mal, boofy and big-hearted, is smitten by the tipsy woman whose car they hijack as they flee Melbourne. And Shane, the almost-out-of-control muscleman of the team rather-too-quickly captures the heart of his anger management counsellor. It’s a very loving family.
But this is also a story full of betrayal and butchery, and the betrayals and butchery are the most interesting bits… especially as they include lessons in ‘butcher’s speak’ (common in the secret fraternity of butchers, apparently), where the boys speak words backwards to confound other listeners.
An enjoyable frolic, with some incidental prison bits.
Posted on April 25th, 2011 at 8:41 pm. Updated on March 8th, 2016 at 2:48 pm.