J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Swerve: Australian Noir

The whole honesty thing does not seem to be working out for an Australian veteran driving cross country for a job interview.  He tries to do the right thing with the briefcase full of cash he finds at the site of an accident, but the local cop is a bit on the dodgy side.  It turns out he has issues, largely revolving around his wife Jina in Craig Lahiff’s Swerve (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Jina will walk away from the crash unscathed, but the other party will be leaving feet first.  Considering he had just pulled off his own murder-double cross, karma certainly came back around for the drug dealer quickly.  However, it is a safe bet someone will come looking for the case of dirty money Colin, the innocent bystander, turns over to Frank, the local law, after driving the strangely composed Jina home.  As a fellow veteran, Frank insists on putting Colin up at his place, which leads to the awkward realization Jina is the copper’s wife.

Needless to say, it is not a happy marriage.  Both husband and wife appear to be hatching schemes against each other that will start to involve the stash of cash in Frank’s jail cell. Colin will try to avoid getting entangled in their drama, but yeah right, good luck with that.

Anyone who has seen Body Heat or The Postman Always Rings Twice will have a pretty idea what twists and turns lay ahead, except Lahiff’s screenplay is relatively demur by the standards of sexually charged thrillers.  In fact, it is a modest film in many ways, seemingly mindful it has not reinvented any cinematic conventions.  Yet, its thriller mechanics are pretty solid and all three sides of the central noir triangle have above average presence. 

While the entire cast (even the smaller supporting figures) is well known in Australia, Jason Clarke will be the most recognizable to American audiences from Zero Dark Thirty.  He does the swaggering small town crooked cop well, playing his problematic nature more in terms of erratic recklessness than outright evil. Emma Booth looks more like a girl next door than a femme fatale, but she vamps it up in style.  Rounding out the trio, David Lyons makes a reasonably credible everyman and a refreshingly sympathetic on-screen portrayal of an Iraq War veteran (even if Clarke’s Frank is considerably less so).

As if in observance of film noir tradition, Swerve culminates on a night train headed out of town.  Trains might not automatically come to mind when you think of Australia, but they have them. It’s a big country, after all.  Regardless, Lahiff hits all of the chamber thriller bases, usually with a fair degree of authority.  Swerve is the sort of film most viewers will say is “pretty good,” which is not bad at all, considering the rubbish that gets released.  It could well have been acquired with the home viewing market in mind, which is exactly where it should have a long and prosperous life.  Recommended accordingly (particularly for those who follow Australian cinema), Swerve opens this Friday (12/6) in New York at the AMC Loews Village 7.

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