Going through my archives I discovered a clutch of movie reviews I had written for Geoffrey.com.au. The site is run by my friend Objectman with occasional posts from me, however a number of the reviews were lost in a catastrophic database incident of Y2K propositions, so I’ve decided to re-run them here.
DIRTY DEEDS (2002) AUSTRALIA, 110 mins
Director: David Caesar | Cast: Bryan Brown, Toni Collette, John Goodman, Sam Neill, Sam Worthington, Kestie Morassi, Felix Williamson, Andrew S. Gilbert, William McInnes
It’s 1969 and the American Mafia wants to get a piece of the Australian poker-machine market. Two Chicago Mafiosi, (Goodman and Williamson) are dispatched to Sydney to deal with the local criminals. They clash with crime boss Barry Ryan (Brown) and his organisation. His young nephew, Darcy, just home from the war, wants to make some quick money and becomes part of the firm.
It’s possible for a film to recover from a bad start. And DIRTY DEEDS has one of these. It begins in Vietnam. A helicopter delivers American pizza to some patrolling Aussie soldiers (did the United States Army really serve up pizza in cardboard boxes marked U.S?) and picks up two of the diggers for their journey home to Australia. One of the soldiers is our young hero, Darcy (Sam Worthington).
The pizza becomes a motif for the film. It represents the clash of American and Australian culture. I kid you not. After Vietnam we travel to an unconvincing United States, then we find ourselves in Sydney with crime boss Barry and his gang, who are about to bust up a nightclub filled with the wrong kind of slot-machines (ie not Barry’s).
This scene is pumped up with the film’s anachronistic title song, and is marred with bizarre camera angles, confusing cutting and worst of all, a flashy, noisy title sequence that distracts from the events on screen.
Unfortunately, DIRTY DEEDS never finds its groove. The unmotivated camera movement continues throughout; rotisserie-type shots, canted angles and the most frequent use of the vertical wipe since ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002). This assault of colour and motion emulates CASINO-era Scorsese, but us actually closer to the style of Guy Ritchie, in that it keeps the audience at arm’s length rather than allowing us to find our way in.
The plot is based on real events, but doesn’t play out that way. The film has none of the feel for character found in Caesar’s recent MULLET (2001) or in his 1996 feature IDIOT BOX. All the gangsters and crooked cops are ciphers or stereotypes. The performances are mostly broad and unaffecting.
Brown, so very good with a similar role in Aussie crime flick TWO HANDS (1999) never reaches the same heights here. Strangely, it’s the American import, John Goodman, who winds up being the heart of the movie. His good bad-guy really connects with the audience. Newcomers Worthington and Kestie Morassi are also very watchable.
Lastly, this film, like the recent THE HARD WORD (2002) ends with murdering
criminals prospering. Sure, it happens in real life, but DIRTY DEEDS is a romp with a body count, not a serious drama about the circumstances and consequences of choosing a criminal life. The crime- does-pay ending is very unsatisfying.