Dirty Deeds Review

Sydney, 1969. Crime boss Barry Ryan (Bryan Brown) is king of the heap, ensuring that local gambling houses use his fruit machines and no-one else’s, or else. Life is good at home, too, with his wife Sharon (Toni Collette) and their children, even if Bazza is playing away from home. But things are about to change, when the Chicago Mafia, spearheaded by Tony (John Goodman) and Sal (Felix Williamson), decide to muscle in…

David Caesar’s fourth feature is big, brash, loud (visually and aurally) and in your face. It’s named after a heavy metal song – “Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap)”, original version by AC/DC over the opening credits, cover version by You Am I over the end – and that’s quite appropriate, as for an hour and a half Caesar bombards the audience with striking filmmaking technique, some decent jokes, several action sequences and visuals and soundtrack cranked up to 11. And for much of the time he succeeds. For each shot that seems pointlessly flashy (such as a tracking shot through a bullet hole in a shot pig and out the other side) there’s plenty which seem precisely right. The convoluted plot involves Barry and Tony trying to outwit each other, which results in a bloody climax in the Outback. Not all of it works: Barry’s son Darcy (Sam Worthington) has a romance with Margaret (Kestie Morassi) that’s so much dead time. The film begins with Darcy being airlifted out of Vietnam, but he’s in many ways the least interesting of the main characters. It’s not Worthington’s fault that he’s overshadowed by the leading cast, who are given much fuller, more outlandish characters to play and play them they do, to the hilt. And there’s a subplot about the introduction of pizza to Australia which seems to have wandered in from another movie.

Bryan Brown, who always did look craggy but now even more so, seems to have caught a second wind in his native country. Barry is a development from Pando, the gangster he played in Two Hands, a role that won him an AFI Supporting Actor award. But Pando was unmistakably a villain: Barry is this film’s anti-hero, in the sense that he’s not quite as venal and corrupt as other people you could name. Brown is clearly having a ball here (he’s also one of the film’s producers) and he gives the film a lot of its energy. Toni Collette, made up to look a little older than her real age, doesn’t actually have a great deal to do with the plot, but so effectively steals every scene she’s in that you don’t realise this until afterwards. John Goodman is a fine antagonist, surface charm hiding steely ruthlessness, and Sam Neill makes the most of a smaller role as Barry’s contact in the police force.

Caesar’s script, like that of his previous film Mullet, shows a strong ear for Aussie vernacular, though I should say that anyone likely to be offended by a considerable amount of strong profanity should steer clear. He gets in quite a few “cultural cringe” jokes that probably play better to Australians than elsewhere: how they don’t have pizza and only black and white TVs. The 60s setting allows Caesar and his DP Geoffrey Hall to emphasise some truly tasteless décor and costumes, with very bold colours, and (due to suntans and/or makeup) barely a natural skintone in the entire film.
Dirty Deeds may not be Caesar’s best film – for me, that’s the much more gentle and low-key, character-led Mullet, though no doubt this is a matter of personal taste. But it’s a good one, and you should find this hour and a half amply entertaining.

Columbia TriStar’s DVD (Region 4 only) is transferred in the correct aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it’s pretty near reference quality. As I’ve said, this is a film that makes particularly bold use of colour and this comes across well in this transfer – sharp, hard, with solid blacks and very little grain. I didn’t spot any artefacts either.

The soundtrack is provided in Dolby Digital 5.1 and ranges from more or less normal pitch via Loud to Deafening. There’s quite a lot of use of the surrounds, especially when music is playing, plenty of directional sound (especially when bullets fly) and the subwoofer gets quite a workout too. Definitely one to annoy your neighbours with. A Dolby Surround track is also included, but it’s very much the poor relation. The 5.1 is the way to go.

There are a generous forty-two chapter stops, and subtitles for the hard-of-hearing on the feature only.

On to the extras, which are accessible via a menu based on the one-armed bandit. Columbia TriStar have included more on this single disc than many people have in a two-disc set. There are three commentaries. First up, and the most likely to appeal to a non-specialist audience, is one featuring Caesar, Brown and the film’s other producer Deborah Balderstone. The two men tend to dominate this commentary, but Balderstone does get to say her piece. There are plenty of anecdotes about the making of the film, and the three have a genuine rapport. Caesar is clearly a very film-literate director, well aware of which films inspire particular scenes and shots: the pig-shooting sequence for example is inspired by the kangaroo hunt in Ted Kotcheff’s 1969 film Wake in Fright (aka Outback). The second commentary features Caesar again, this time in tandem with director of photography Geoffrey Hall. It’s more technical than the first commentary, but discusses in depth the film’s visual style, from its use of the Super 35 format and the challenges of framing a Scope film onwards. The third commentary comes from composer Paul Healy, who has provided a very versatile score. This commentary isn’t feature-length: Healy appears every so often to introduce each music cue. An index is helpfully provided, and you may prefer to jump to the next cue rather than wait through minutes of silence for it.

Next up is a 36-image stills gallery, navigable by a simple back-and-forth method. “Cast” features biographies of Brown, Collette, Goodman and Neill obviously lifted from a press kit. “Trailer” is what it says, in anamorphic 2.35:1 and running 2:17. It gives you a pretty good idea as to what to expect from the feature, though there are a few minor spoilers in it.

Give the one-armed bandit a spin, and the next row comes up. “Baz” is an interview with Brown off Australian TV, in anamorphic 16:9 and running 3:58. “Shaz” does likewise with Toni Collette. Fairly standard stuff, but it shows that protocols on television Down Under being rather different to those elsewhere. It’s hard to imagine a British presenter addressing Brown as “mate” or Collette being allowed to say “You’re making me sound like a wanker!” It runs 3:38. “Get Dirty” is a featurette combining on-set footage and interviews with Caesar, Brown and Neill. It’s full-frame and runs 25:19. “Extras” leads to 7:37 of on-set video footage (full-frame) during the shooting of a couple of scenes. I doubt you’ll want to watch this more than once.

Spin the one-armed bandit again and the last row of the menu comes up. “Website” is a text page referring you to the film’s website – not even a weblink. “Music” takes you to a featurette (running 9:22) on the soundtrack. It’s mostly an interview with David Caesar and Tim Allen of You Am I, who is also the producer of the soundtrack album. This featurette is really full-frame, though it has a 2.35:1 non-anamorphic picture with yellow bars above and below. Bryan Brown and other members of You Am I pitch in as well. “Soundtrack” is a single page advertising the CD. Finally, “Pizza” takes you through to a text feature, “Sam Worthington’s Pizza Tips”. Now, if all these extras have made you hungry, here’s how you can make Pink-Eyed Pizza. Recipes as DVD extras aren’t that easy to come by, even if they are becoming a feature on discs of David Caesar movies!

And that’s the lot. A brash, entertaining crime caper is done proud on DVD.

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