Dirty Deeds (18)
Australia continues to churn ‘em out – great little movies made with little fanfare that turn out to be better than Stateside conveyor belt dross, and for a fraction of the cost.
Boasting a stable of superb character actors that includes Bryan Brown, John Goodman, Toni Collette and a Sam Neill cameo, Dirty Deeds resembles an antipodean version of The Long Good Friday in which the Aussies are a tad brighter than the Yanks.
The story, set in the 1960s, hinges on an attempt by the Chicago Mafia to muscle in on the crime empire of Barry Ryan (Brown), a genial gangster with a brutal streak, by sending two emissaries, Tony and Sal (John Goodman and Felix Williamson), to persuade Barry to hand over a chunk of his Sydney slot machine business.
But Barry is a canny chap, and soon he and his ballsy wife, Sharon (Collette) are running rings round the Americans. In the meantime Barry’s naïve nephew, Darcy, is out of the army after national service and looking for a job. When he falls for Margaret, Barry’s mistress, the lies begin. Soon Darcy is lying to Barry, Barry is lying to Sharon, and Sal is lying to Tony as he makes regular reports back to the Mafia bigwigs.
Dirty Deeds, like Lantana before it, is a movie that creeps up on you. Its budget may be meagre by Hollywood standards but there is more going on in this modest little comedy/thriller than in most of the overblown efforts trotted out from the film factories of Los Angeles. Impeccably acted and beautifully written and directed by David Caesar, this is a crime comedy with grit, gumption and genre-busting finesse that, in a trice, leapfrogs the Scorsese school of gangster flicks.
I mention Scorsese only because he created Goodfellas and then carried on remaking the same story with variations. Hollywood copied and re-copied until the only mobster movies coming out of America were tainted by the same tired feel. Caesar and Co have broken the mould by recreating an authentic ‘60s milieu, packing it with fabulous thesps – not least the criminally underused Bryan Brown, here also serving as producer – and serving it up with relish.
Dirty Deeds is everything that is enjoyable about Aussie movies. As the Sydney Godfather Brown leads at least ten featured characters with aplomb, proving that the Hollywood dross he’s been lumbered with in recent years has been exactly that: jobs to pay the bills with. Here he’s at the head of a project that shows off his dangerous mix of easy charm and watch-spring menace while, at the same time, enjoying some intricately-written stand-offs with Goodman (in a rare trip abroad), Collette (excellent as the moll) and Sam Neill, who meanders through the proceedings as a taciturn bent cop.
Smart, funny and occasionally nasty, Dirty Deeds provides a welcome spin on the fish-out-of-water story and should be seen by anyone with a serious interest in retro crime thrillers.
Star rating: ****