The Hard Word Review

Meet the Twentyman brothers, experts at the trade of armed robbery. Dale (Guy Pearce) is the brains of the outfit, Shane (Joel Edgerton) the live wire and Mal (Damien Richardson) the gentle one whose ambition is to follow in the family trade of butchery, as in sausage-making. Their crooked lawyer Frank (Robert Taylor), who is having an affair with Dale’s wife Carol (Rachel Griffiths), gets them out of prison on bail long enough to perform one last very big heist. Nothing can go wrong, or can it…?

The Hard Word, written and directed by Scott Roberts (his debut in the latter capacity), is another entry in the heist-movie subgenre, laced with salty and frequently very profane humour. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is the most recent leading example. I was in the minority left cold by that film. On the other hand, to me at least, The Hard Word was much fresher and more entertaining. Roberts’s script is well-constructed and often very funny, with lots of quirky character detail. As a first-time director, I’ve no doubt he had a lot of help from his crew: there are strong contributions from cinematographer Brian Beheny, production designer Paddy Reardon and editor Martin Connor. David Thrussell has come up with a very varied score that covers a lot of moods, but still manages to be as hard and propulsive as this material needs, particularly in his opening theme.

Just as important is the work of those in front of the cameras. The Hard Word is a very strongly cast film, with good actors like Vince Colosimo and Kim Gyngell in relatively small parts, and quite a lot of scene stealing going on from Taylor, Edgerton and Richardson. But if the film belongs to anyone, it’s Pearce and Griffiths. Both of them look different to how we’ve seen them elsewhere: Pearce bearded, Griffiths hard-faced and in a blonde wig as an archetypal moll. One scene in particular – and you’ll know exactly which one I mean when you see this film – sums her character up perfectly in its mixture of outrageousness and sexiness.

There are the occasional weak links. Tarzan, a trigger-happy black Londoner (Dorian Nkono), seems to have wandered in from a Guy Ritchie movie and really only exists to complicate the plot. Ultimately, there’s nothing really very original about The Hard Word, though it’s certainly well done, and an hour and a half passes at express-train speed.

Roadshow’s DVD is, like every other disc of theirs I’ve seen, is encoded for Region 4 only. The Hard Word was shot in Super 35 – unusually, it actually says this in the closing credits – and released in cinemas in 2.35:1. The picture on this DVD is faithful to that ratio, and is anamorphic. It’s an excellent transfer, as you should expect from a brand-new movie: sharp and colourful with strong blacks. Only some minor instances of aliasing prevent it getting top marks. It’s also let down by a rather noticeable layer change just over an hour in. There are twenty-four chapter stops, plenty for a film of this length.

The soundtrack is mixed into Dolby Digital 5.1, and as I say about David Thrussell’s score above, it’s just what a film like this needs – loud and hard. The surrounds and subwoofer are used extensively for music and effects, though the dialogue is always clear. You have the option of listening to Thrussell’s score on its own. There are subtitles for the hard of hearing, and burnt-in ones on screen to translate the brothers’ “butcher’s talk”, of which more below. The film begins with the Dolby Digital “canyon” intro.

The main extra is an audio commentary by Scott Roberts. This is generally enthusiastic and informative, going into some detail about how the film was set up and made. At times, though, he does lapse into describing for us what’s happening onscreen, and interpreting it for us.

The theatrical trailer is in anamorphic 2.35:1 and runs 2:18. It claims to be in Dolby Digital 5.1, but sounds more like rather muted Dolby Surround.

The behind the scenes footage is full-frame (though film extracts are 2.35:1) and runs 5:17. Like many similar promotional items, it’s a short compilation of film clips interspersed with interview soundbites. Some of these dig a little deeper than is usual for most EPK fodder, but there’s nothing here that’s really essential.

“Storyboard to screen” runs 3:21 and is in anamorphic 16:9. It comprises the chase sequence from the film (in 2.35:1) with the corresponding storyboard drawing in the bottom right. Over all this is a commentary by Roberts, explaining the process – no doubt familiar to anyone au fait with the filmmaking process, but certainly interesting. Finally, there’s a music video made from the opening theme, full-frame but with film extracts once again in 2.35:1, albeit with the soundtrack in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono this time. It runs 1:58.

There are two text-based extras. Firstly there are very thorough biographies and filmographies for the leading cast and all the crewmembers I’ve mentioned so far plus producer Al Clark and costume designer Terry Ryan. Once again, it’s nice to see some effort put into these, rather than simply lifting filmographies wholesale from the IMDB.
There are also five text pages, where Roberts describes “butchers’ speak”, a genuine argot that he used in the film. Briefly, words are spoken backwards (though maintaining their order in the sentence) with occasional vowels added to aid pronunciation.

If you highlight “Cast & Crew” on the extras menu and then click the Up button, you’ll reveal a smiley in the top right hand corner of the screen. Click on this and you’ll see a 0:32 outtake of Rachel Griffiths in what is likely to be the most talked-about scene in the film.

The Hard Word is a very competent if inevitably somewhat familiar first feature from Scott Roberts, and it’ll be interesting to see how he develops from here, with more original material. Roadshow’s DVD has an excellent picture and soundtrack, with a strong collection of extras.

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