Dir: Jonathan Teplitzky. Australia. 2003. 100mins
The well-planned heist that 'goes wrong' to a thumping rock soundtrack, the bunch of lovable desperadoes in hock to the real nasties, the reliably unexpected twist in the narrative tail-all are in place in this attractively virile Aussie gangster comedy. Arguably, Guy Ritchie's British Lock, Stock... started this good-crim/bad-crim caper genre in 1998, though he was clearly influenced by Tarantino. Australia's response was the excellently intricate Two Hands (1999), Gregor Jordan's first feature that introduced Heath Ledger, and several lower-powered examples followed.
Gettin' Square is a return to form, with director Teplitzky's restless, inventive pace allied to lawyer/writer Chris Nyst's convincingly complex plotting and heightened Aussie argot. Home audiences will cheer the comic exuberance when Hoyts opens it wide locally from October 9 (over 120 screens) with Australia's highest rating broadcaster adding considerable marketing muscle. The jovial presence of England's Timothy Spall and a stand-out farcical gem from David Wenham will also prove attractive to the UK market and beyond.
Flashing back six months from the opening heist, most of the team are no-hopers in a Queensland jail pleading their cases for release on parole. Barry (Worthington) has been inside for eight years, working as prison cook, stoically taking a manslaughter rap for Chicka (Sweet), a yacht-owning Mr. Big who's in secret partnership with crooked detective Arnie (Field). Barry's slow-witted mate Spit (Wenham) also wants to 'get square', put a drug-dependent past behind him.
Outside, everything conspires against their good intentions. Spit is soon in the thick of life-long problems; Barry can't get work until he meets Dabba (Spall), a 'retired' London crim who has bought the huge Texas Rose restaurant at Surfers Paradise but has no clue how to attract customers.
When the Criminal Investigation Commission, a new government agency intent on recovering ill-gained revenue, starts digging up the gardens of his mansion, Dabba is forced to lead a fight-back-lovable crims against vicious crims, efficient modern cops against sleazy old-fashioned cops.
The cast are excellent, revelling in Nyst's free-flowing comic dialogue, modern Aussie slang effortlessly raised to a street smart poetry. But it's David Wenham who makes the biggest impression. Blond heartthrob in The Lord of the Rings, Universal's upcoming Van Helsing and Teplitzky's first feature Better Than Sex, Wenham has enormously infectious fun here as the ultimate dead-beat no-hoper-pock-marked, flip-flops flapping, hardly able to get a coherent sentence together, yet attractive for all that. This is a brilliant, career-enhancing performance.
Teplitzky keeps the action flowing, jolting his audience with odd angles and never-still camera movements. This proves irritating only during Wenham's hilarious appearance before the CIC: all we want is to watch his contorted face as he tries not to answer any questions but the camera keeps drifting away left or right. Teplitzky should have stayed with the top-class comedy action.
Prod cos: Mushroom Pictures, Working Title Australia, Freshwater Pictures, Channel Nine Television
Aust/NZ dist: Hoyts
Int'l dist: UIP
Exec prods: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Michael Gudinski, Kris Noble
Prods: Martin Fabinyi, Timothy White, Trish Lake
Screenplay: Chris Nyst
Cinematography: Garry Phillips
Prod designer: Nicholas McCallum
Editor: Ken Sallows
Main cast: Sam Worthington, David Wenham, Timothy Spall, Freya Stafford, Gary Sweet, David Field