Dirty Deeds (August 20/02)
The crime genre got a huge boost about a decade ago, with the release of Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. Since then, we've been inundated with a variety of flicks in a similar vein - with the majority of them either pale imitations of Tarantino's film or wallowing in their own style. Last year's Gangster No. 1, a British crime film, had a great sense of direction but not much else. This year's hot import comes from Australia, and while it's still not quite up to the level of something like Reservoir Dogs, it's certainly an improvement over some of the more recent genre films we've been subjected to.
Dirty Deeds is set in 1969 and stars Bryan Brown as a local gangster named Barry. Barry essentially runs the criminal aspect of Sydney, with the majority of his income stemming from a slots racket. He's got what he thinks is a perfect setup; the cops are on his side, including a high-profile detective (Sam Neill) and the various other thugs in town know not to mess with Barry. But competition is arriving directly from America, in the form of two Chicago mobsters (John Goodman and Felix Williamson). This being a crime picture, it doesn't take a genius to discern that many double-crosses and brutal murders are soon to follow.
From the opening moments of Dirty Deeds, it's clear that director David Caesar has been influenced by pivotal genre directors like Martin Scorsese. Much like Gangster No. 1 (and this is where the similarities end), Dirty Deeds employs a style and soundtrack that's meant to evoke a sense of the '60s. From tilted camera angles to a succession of zooms upon entering a disco, all the cliches are here. But it works, due mostly to the tongue-in-cheek attitude of the screenplay. After a character who's just returned from the war walks out of a store wearing the very same over-the-top outfit that the models in the window are sporting, we know none of this should be taken too seriously.
The cast is certainly game, with Brown delivering his best performance since another Australian crime film, 1998's Two Hands (which also premiered at the film festival). Though his Barry can be brutal when he needs to be, we're shown a more sensitive side in his dealings with both his wife (Toni Collette) and his mistress (Kestie Morassi). Brown is clearly having a lot of fun with this role, and though we learn early on that he's not exactly a pacifist, he nevertheless manages to create a character we're willing to root for. Goodman is just as good as an aging mobster who's filled with regret and grief.
But as with most films of this ilk, the whole thing doesn't really add up to much. Unlike Scorsese's Goodfellas, which took these gangsters and crafted an epic story around them, Dirty Deeds feels more like a day-in-the-life sort of approach. And while it's entertaining enough, it certainly won't linger in your thoughts for too long. Still, it's worth checking out for the better-than-expected performances and stylish direction (that virtuoso tracking shot that travels inside a dead pig will probably have audiences laughing hysterically or groaning miserably).