Swerve Movie Review

Featuring: Emma Booth, Jason Clarke, Vince Colosimo, David Lyons, Travis McMahon
Director/writer: Craig Lahiff
Australian release date: 7 June, 2012
Website: www.swervefeaturefilm.com
Review 1: rolanstein
Review 2: Karen

Driving through the South Australian outback en route to a job interview, drifter Colin (David Lyons) witnesses a fatal rollover when a speeding driver swerves to avoid an oncoming car. The other driver, Jina (Emma Booth), is unhurt. Colin comes across a case stuffed with money in the dead driver’s car, takes it without divulging the contents to Jina and gives her a lift to her nearby homestead. He subsequently makes for the nearest small town, locates the head cop, Frank (Jason Clarke), and hands the loot in.

Colin reluctantly accepts an insistent invitation from an outwardly friendly but inwardly suspicious Frank to stay the night at his home, and is startled to discover that Jina is his wife – and an opportunistic seductress with dangerous sub-agendas.

When the case of money goes missing from the cop shop, and with jealousy, greed, paranoia, misunderstanding, murder and a crooked city drug squad cop (Travis McMahon) soon in the mix, Colin finds himself in a small town vipers’ nest, inextricably caught as the innocent party in a deadly three-way fight for the loot.

Review 1 (rolanstein)
Swerve opens with a drug rendezvous on a remote dusty outback plain extending uninterrupted on all sides to the horizon. A man waits casually beside his car as a driver speeds towards him from afar. Contraband and money are exchanged wordlessly. The pick-up driver accelerates away from whence he came, tastes the dope and realises he’s been dudded, slams on the brakes and turns back. The drug supplier splits his attention between the oncoming car and a stopwatch he has in his hand. We know what’s coming, and we’re not disappointed. As the countdown hits zero the approaching car explodes in a fireball.

Subject this early stage of the narrative to logical scrutiny and it falls apart. Wouldn’t any pro pick-up driver taste the wares before he parted with the bucks? Certainly before he zoomed off into the distance…? And wouldn’t a drug drop-off in a remote area be attended by more than one member of each dealing party?

Well of course, but why spoil the fun? Besides, only the most analytical of viewers would subject this opening scene to such narrow-eyed assessment while it is in progress, because there are better things to focus on. The grandeur of the vast outback, for example, and the wonderful camerawork that captures it. The agoraphobic quality of this scene recalls Hitchcock’s classic open road cornfields crop duster attack scene in North By Northwest. There is no cover, nowhere to hide, making this rendezvous of the lawless an act of lethally ironic mutual trust. So, while this gripping opening might not make complete sense and has more than a touch of déjà vu about it, it is well executed and full of tension. And that sets the standard for the rest of the film.

It soon becomes evident that we’re in familiar territory– noir pulp thriller – but lifted out of the American setting we associate with films of this genre and stamped with a distinctly Australian brand, there’s a freshness here deriving from this cultural and geographical reorientation.

The fundamentals and character types of the genre are present: the newcomer in town, the femme fatale, the local small-town cop taking the law into his own hands, the high stakes multi-party quest after ill-begotten booty. However, there are no neon lights shimmering on rainy streets, no venetian blinds casting shadows in dim-lit apartments, and not a lot of the action is enshadowed. This is noir in the glare of the outback sun, in the sinister bowels of a derelict mining shaft, on remote bumpy short-cut dirt tracks, on the Indian Pacific train.

While there is a predictability – well, more an inevitability – about the narrative and characters, the writing is smart, distinguished by a sleight of hand that conceals the liberties being taken with logic and realism, fooling us into accepting the narrative as plausible. Or plausible enough, at least.

When it’s not, as is sometimes the case – such as when Frank jumps from a bridge on to the roof of one of the carriages of the Indian Pacific as it tears along at full throttle, then subsequently appears inside, unscathed – we don’t mind at all. In fact, we chuckle wryly along with the filmmakers. They’re having fun, we’re having fun. But not so much as to compromise the dramatic tension so vital in a thriller. It’s a tense ride, intriguing all the way to the credit roll, despite the familiar shape of the narrative. And very well paced throughout, which is where so many thrillers fall short.

The sophisticated multi-pronged narrative is tight, character motivations are well set up and psychologically credible, and the dramatic fundamentals are duly respected while avoiding any sense of storytelling-by-numbers.

The performers thrive on the well-managed script. You get the sense that they relished their roles. I particularly enjoyed Emma Booth’s pulpy take on her character – she’s a smokin’ hot femme fatale in that adult cartoonish way of this genre. But really, I’m giving into my hubba hubba whoo whoo whoo side in isolating her for mention. All the actors are good.

Swerve ain’t gonna be up for any prestigious awards. It’s pure entertainment that aims to put bums on seats, and makes no pretence to be anything else. But it’s well-crafted, strikes an intriguing tone, and gets all the important stuff right. And I have to say, I found it a refreshing change from the usual hip-conscious urban-grim arthouse Aussie fare.

This baby is not up with beauties like No Country For Old Men, but it’s a damn sight better than, say, The Killer Inside Me. And a lot of other such American product. It’s hard to compare with other Aussie films of this ilk because there are so few, but I reckon it’s out on its own in that respect, at least among the scant offerings of recent years. Recommended, unless you’re a film snob.

Review 2 (Karen)
The opening scene of Swerve is a promise of good things to come. It’s beautifully framed and allusive. The junction of many roads, seen from above, suggests the variety of directions a storyline – or a life – might take, and the ensuing film doesn’t disappoint as the main characters soar and dive on a narrative rollercoaster that reaches a climax on the Indian Pacific train.

Director Craig Lahiff has used a talented production team and competent cast to create a slick movie that’s a whole heap of fun. It tips you the wink early with a billboard advertising the Neverest Hotel that you can sit back and enjoy the ride. And enjoy it I did.

The premise is good – a drugs/money exchange goes explosively wrong, and an innocent passer-by, Colin (David Lyons), ends up with a briefcase full of money. But hang on, what is he doing? Handing it in to the police? And lighting out as soon as his car is fixed? Of course not! He’s stuck there in the outback town of Neverest; and the local cop Frank (Jason Clarke) pals up with him; and the cop’s wife Jina (Emma Booth), well, she’s a complication-and-a-half. And, natch, a villain is after that money, and Frank turns out to be crooked, and violent, and Jina’s looking for a way out, and Neverest is swarming with police there for a Battle of the Bands(!), and the fun begins.

The plot has holes as deep as the disused mineshaft that figures in the action, and while in a theatre a badly constructed play has people entering and exiting every five minutes, this film has to shift characters in cars hither and thither, so there are a lot of road scenes. But you forgive the stupid decisions that put characters in danger because the dangerous bits are so wonderfully scary, and the road scenes have the fabulous backdrop of the Flinders Range in South Australia.

Swerve has the feel of scary pantomime. You groan, cover your eyes, and want to scream at the actors: “Don’t go back there! Look behind the desk! Don’t trust her/him!” I said the cast were competent, but I wasn’t damning with faint praise. They do as much as the script asks of them, which isn’t much: this isn’t a character study after all, and it certainly doesn’t have the richness of, say, Gregor Jordan’s 1999 cracker, Two Hands. But it’s a hugely entertaining thriller. Go and see it!

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One thought on “Swerve Movie Review”

  1. Great review, rolanstein. I think we’re in agreement here. I also thought of No Country for Old Men, but pretty much only in relation to the landscape; yes, it’s not up there with that in terms of theme and gravitas, but it doesn’t pretend to be. I hope it gets the (large) audience it deserves.

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