Dir: Robert Connolly.Aus. 2005. 119mins.
Based on an award-winning 1998 Australian novel, ThreeDollars is about a good, honest man utterly unable to compromise hisintegrity. David Wenham is sensitively intelligent in a role that requires himto bravely suffer a variety of modern economic tortures, from sacking andbetrayal to bankruptcy and destitution.
Made with care and finesseby established director/producer partnership Robert Connolly and John Maynard(who also made The Bank in 2001), and with the considerable bonus ofFrances O'Connor's return to local movie making, the film has everything goingfor it - except any sense of dramatic forward momentum. While Three Dollarsstands as a thoughtful, socially committed work, it never really grips itsaudiences as it expounds its theme.
At home performance so farhas been good since its late April opening. Any international arthouse successwill depend on its marquee names and its timely theme: family values versus thethoughtlessness of the corporate world.
Told along several paralleltime lines, the storytelling is defiantly fractured and very slow to unravel.Chemical engineer Eddie (Wenham) is frogmarched from his office with twocardboard boxes of personal effects during the opening titles, but it's nearingthe end before we learn that all he has left in the bank is those eponymousthree dollars.
Such knowledge would havelent some much needed urgency to the opening act which instead slowlyintroduces his passionate/depressive wife Tanya (O'Connor), their perkysix-year-old daughter Abby (Hunt-Prokhovnik), and Eddie's mysterious childhoodfriend Amanda (Wynter) who will crop up unexpectedly throughout the film.
One promisingly dramaticplotline concerns Eddie's professional investigations into a dodgy land deal -a housing estate has been planned for some badly contaminated bushland. Buteven though Eddie gets excitingly attacked by a crop-dusting plane in opencountry a la Hitchcock, the audience must wait and wait for furtherdevelopments. The director/writers' interest is clearly elsewhere.
Wenham and O'Connor areexcellent as the urban couple, though his peace-loving, reasoned, almostsaintly incorruptibility is hardly dramatic and he never fights back. At leastO'Connor gets to react against his goodness and rage a little before sinkinginto a convincing depression. Much pleasure can be had from watching thedetailed, close-up truthfulness of these two performances, and their movinglyenigmatic final family scene packs an emotional punch.
It is a long haul beforeEddie arrives at the nadir of his misfortunes, the local soup kitchen. Hisfractured journey is studded by chance meetings, sometimes violent, often withcity dropouts and street people. Two prickly encounters stand out, intricate,quasi-theatrical duologues with a probing psychiatrist and an acerbic drycleaning shop proprietor. Scripting here is effective and funny, and Wenhamclearly relishes the challenge.
Production values areexceptional, with fine work by Nick Meyers (editing), Tristan Milani (camera)and Alan John (original score). Scenes from the characters' early lives arealso shown via some finely rendered 'home movies'.
Prod cos: Arenafilm, Film Finance Corporation Australia,PMP/Showtime
Aust/NZ dist: Dendy/Footprint
Int'l sales: Becker Films Int'l
Exec prods: Dominique Green,Andrew Myer
Prod: John Maynard
Scr: Connolly, Elliot Perlman,from the novel by Perlman
Cine: Tristan Milani
Prod des: Luigi Pittorino
Ed: Nick Meyers
Music: Alan John
Main cast: David Wenham, FrancesO'Connor, Sarah Wynter, Joanna Hunt-Prokhovnik, Robert Menzies, Nicole Nabout,David Roberts