Two Hands Review

[N.B. This is a review of the original Australian DVD release of Two Hands, from Universal Australia. A new release from Magna Pacific, with differing extras, is due for release on 26 September 2003.]

Jimmy (Heath Ledger) has grown up in King's Cross, the rough part of Sydney. In an attempt to ingratiate himself with local crimelord Pando (Bryan Brown) he agrees to deliver $10,000. Finding the woman he is to deliver the money to not at home, he decides to spend the waiting time on the nearby Bondi Beach. He hides the money and goes for a swim, but unknown to him two kids have been watching him all the time, and they steal the money. Now Jimmy's life is in danger.

Two Hands isn't especially original, but is lifted out of the ordinary by stylish direction, a couple of solid lead performances and a good eye for locations. It's very hard to avoid Tarantino comparisons, so I won't. The elements are all here: a basically amoral milieu and characters, a convoluted plot, a tone that balances black comedy with bouts of violence and suspense. There's even the True Romance-like device of Jimmy's dead brother making several mentor-like appearances. Fortunately there's less emphasis on smartarse dialogue. Jordan keeps the film pacy, helped out by several local rock bands on the soundtrack, and brings it in under an hour and a half.

Heath Ledger made Two Hands between the two American movies which made his name, 10 Things I Hate About You and The Patriot. Considering that this is a film where even the good guys are low-lifes, Ledger does succeed in getting the audience on the side of a character who isn't especially bright. He gives Jimmy an appealing innocence, a sense that there is something in him that's better than the environment he's grown up in. Pando's name is compared at one point to that of a teddy bear, but there's nothing cuddly about him. As Brown plays him, he's superficially charming (in one scene giving Alex (Rose Byrne) a taxi fare home) but make no mistake, he's not to be crossed. His dead eyes are a giveaway. Susie Porter has less to do in what is not much more than a typical girlfriend role.

Two Hands was a solid hit at the Australian box office, and won five Australian Film Institute Awards: Best Film, two for Jordan for Direction and Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Brown) and Best Editing (Lee Smith). Such is the erratic state of antipodean film distribution in the UK, when popular hits and award-winners like this and Looking for Alibrandi are passed over for theatrical release in favour of very middling fare like Paperback Hero and Me Myself I, that Two Hands suffered the same fate.

Universal's Region 4 DVD has an anamorphic transfer at 16:9, and seems correctly framed: presumably the film was 1.75:1 in cinemas. The picture has absolutely nothing wrong with it, being sharp, richly coloured with solid blacks and no artefacting at all that I could see. For such a recent film, you should expect nothing less. According to the credits, Two Hands was recorded in Dolby Digital, so it's unfortunate that the soundtrack in this edition is only Dolby Surround. Good Dolby Surround, mind you, with extensive use of the surrounds and quite a few left-and-right effects (note the dialogue in the opening scene), but not quite having the punch that a 5.1 mix might have given it. All English-language DVDs should have English subtitles, if only for the benefit of the hard of hearing and non-native speakers. Considering the broad Strine accents of some of the cast, such people may be glad that the subtitles are there. There are only twelve chapter stops, which is not especially generous.

This edition does have extras, though they aren't much to write home about. Just for once, the trailer (in anamorphic 16:9) does give an accurate impression of the film, though it does contain some minor plot spoilers. There are interviews with Ledger, Byrne, Brown and Jordan, each are subdivided into chapters (five, five, four and eight respectively), with the options to play them all without a break. The interviews are anamorphic 16:9, but have a soft look betraying their video origins, presumably from an electronic press kit. The interviews are brief and by no means in-depth, the usual stuff about how talented everyone is and what a pleasure it was to make the film. There are biographies of the same four people.

One reason to watch a film like this, apart from entertainment, is to catch an early look at people whose careers are clearly on the up. Ledger we already know about; it will be interesting to see what Jordan will do next, hopefully with less derivative material.

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