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With: Guy Pearce, Rachel Griffiths, Robert Taylor, Joel Edgerton, Damien Richardson, Rhondda Findleton, Kate Atkinson, Vince Colosimo
Written by: Scott Roberts
Directed by: Scott Roberts
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language, sexuality and brief drug use
Running Time: 102
Date: 05/30/2002
IMDB

The Hard Word (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Men of their 'Word'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Guy Pearce arrived on the American movie scene at the same time as his countryman Russell Crowe -- and in fact in the same movie, L.A. Confidential (1997). Since then, Crowe has gone onto much bigger fame and fortune while Pearce has languished in cult movies or out-and-out flops.

But in all honesty, the quality of films on their resumes remains about the same -- except that Pearce has demonstrated a much greater range of talent and a more intricate, finely-tuned screen presence.

On the plus side, Pearce has played the fragile detective lieutenant Exley in L.A. Confidential, a drag queen in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, fighting Civil War-era cannibals in the great cult film Ravenous and, of course, bottle-blond memory guy Leonard Shelby in Memento.

On the other hand, Pearce has also appeared in clunkers like The Time Machine, The Count of Monte Cristo and Till Human Voices Wake Us. Still, he's shown a fresh dedication to each role, attacking even the emptiest characters with the same energy brought to his better films.

And so comes The Hard Word, a good-but-not-great caper film that brings Pearce back to his native Australia. As Dale, he's a bit scruffy, his oily hair is permanently matted down and his teeth seem too big for his jaw -- and he's virtually attached at the hip to his two brothers, Shane (Joel Edgerton) and Mal (Damien Richardson).

When one brother goes to prison, they all go. As the temperamental Shane explains to his prison shrink, "Dale's the smart one, Mal's the good one and I'm the f--- up." They speak to each other in an indecipherable "butcher talk," supposedly gleaned from their father. Slow-witted Mal has picked up that noble trade and provides all the meat for the prisoners' meals -- including a special sausage for Shane's birthday.

The brothers get out of prison every once in a while when their slick, connected lawyer, Frank (Robert Taylor) needs them to pull off some kind of robbery. Frank is also sleeping with Dale's sexy wife Carol (a blonde Rachel Griffiths) and tries to double-cross the brothers as often as he helps them.

It's too bad that Griffiths, another outstanding Aussie actress who was so good in The Rookie and TV's "Six Feet Under," can't make much out of her standard-issue femme fatale character.

To put it simply, Dale and the brothers try their own double-cross to put Frank where he belongs and to buy their freedom forever.

But this plot is not what makes The Hard Word work. Though the movie scores points with odd little details, like hiding stolen loot in a giant inflatable cow, or Mal falling in love with the female owner of a car that the thieves have requisitioned, or a hired hitman with dyslexia, it's Pearce and the special relationship he portrays with his "brothers" that really hits home.

With three characters who know each other very well, most of their communication may go unspoken, and hence it becomes more interesting for the viewer. In one scene, the three sit down to a meal before their next job. They each order different, specific things and Shane makes a big deal about the shape of his fries and the whole Coke vs. Pepsi thing. Dale and Mal laugh to themselves and we know this kind of thing has gone on forever. We feel we know them without being overtly introduced to them.

Fortunately, writer/director Scott Roberts knows enough to keep the brothers together as often as possible -- or to at least reference the other two when we're focused on one -- and their kooky energy gels the movie.

Whereas his fellow countrymen Crowe would somehow try to steal the picture, Pearce knows enough to blend in and become part of the team.

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