“DIRTY DEEDS” (2002) Review
Written and directed by David Caesar, the 2002 movie ”DIRTY DEEDS” is a gangster comedy about an Australian mobster who finds himself besieged by the American Mafia when his lucrative casino business, buoyed by the influx of U.S. soldiers in town for R&R during their tours in Vietnam in 1969, attracts their attention. The comedy starred Bryan Brown, Toni Collette, John Goodman, Sam Worthington and Sam Neill.
This quirky and slightly black comedy centered on an Australian mobster named Barry Ryan (Bryan Brown), who seemed to have it all in 1969. He has a successful casino business, a feisty wife named Sharon who loves him (Toni Collette); Darcy, his nephew who has just returned from military service in Vietnam (Sam Worthington) and might be a potential enforcer for him; a needy and beautiful young mistress named Margaret (Kestie Morassi); and Ray, a corrupt police officer in his pocket who can keep him out of jail (Sam Neill). However, all good things usually come to an end . . . or is threatened. And in Barry’s case, this happens when the American Mafia decides it wants a piece of Barry’s action with the casino. Even worse, Barry has to deal with a trigger-happy rival who wants to drive him out of business. The two American mobsters named Tony and Sal (John Goodman and Felix Williamson) arrive and both Sharon and Ray advise Barry to show them a good time, until he can find a way to get rid of them without attracting more unwanted attention from the Mafia. However, Darcy has also proved to be a problem. The Vietnam War veteran seemed to have no taste to become a gangster. And he ends up falling in love with Margaret, Barry’s mistress. And Margret has fallen in love with Darcy.
One of the reasons why I liked ”DIRTY DEEDS” so much was that its plot seemed character driven. I am not saying that the movie was all characterization and no plot. Oh contraire. But Caesar’s script allowed each major character’s desires and fears to drive the plot. Which I definitely enjoyed. And each character – aside from the younger American mobster portrayed by Williamson – found either their livelihoods or lives threatened. And even when certain characters end up as opponents – Barry and Tony over the former’s casino business, Barry and Darcy over Margaret, and Sharon and Margaret over Barry – I found myself rooting for them all. Once again, I have to compliment Caesar’s writing for creating a group of interesting and very complex characters. The one character who failed to win anything in the end turned out to be the trigger happy Sal, who seemed so certain of his superiority as an American and a Mafia hit man that he failed to realize that he was out of his depth before it was too late. And while watching ”DIRTY DEEDS”, I was surprised to learn that Australian soldiers had served in Vietnam during the 1960s.
I also have to give kudos to Caesar for collecting a first-rate cast. I was more than surprised to discover that Australian actor Felix Williamson had been cast in the role of Mafia hit man, Sal. Although Sal is not what one would describe as a multi-dimensional character, Williamson managed to shine in one scene that featured Sal’s chilling and arrogant revelation to Darcy about how the Mafia was able to profit from the American presence in Vietnam. Sam Neill gave a deliciously cynical performance as the corrupt and pragmatic police officer Ray, who decided to bide his time and see who would emerge as the winner in the tug-of-war between Barry and the Mafia visitors. Ketsie Morassi earned a Best Supporting Female Actor award from the Film Critics Circle of Australia for her portrayal of Margaret, Barry’s young mistress. Morassi managed to expertly transform Margaret from the desperate young mistress trying to project a sophisticated façade to the relaxed young woman who found herself falling in love with her lover’s nephew.
When I first saw the summer movie, ”TERMINATOR SALVATION”, it occurred to me that Sam Worthington looked oddly familiar. I finally recalled seeing him in my first viewing of ”DIRTY DEEDS”. In this movie, he gave a relaxed performance as Barry’s charming nephew, the Vietnam War veteran Darcy. Worthington’s Darcy was so charming and forthright that it was easy to see why Margaret fell in love with him. And why Tony started to regard him as a son. But that easy-going nature also contrasted with Darcy’s growing uneasiness that he was not cut out to be a mobster, let alone become his uncle’s new enforcer. And being the talented actor that he is, Worthington managed to convey Darcy’s angst over his relationship with Barry with great ease. John Goodman’s performance as the older Mafioso Tony seemed just as relaxed as Worthington’s performance . . . and nuanced. Unlike the arrogant Sal, his Tony is a weary gangster who has come to regret his decision not to follow in his uncle’s footsteps as a restaurant owner and become a professional criminal, instead. Although he manages to hold his own in his dealings with Barry, Tony senses a kindred spirit in Darcy and tries to prevent the younger man from following into Barry’s footsteps.
Bryan Brown was naturally at the top of his game as the ruthless, yet besieged mobster, Barry Ryan. He is probably one of the few actors I believe is capable of portraying tough and masculine types without overdoing it. And his Barry was tough and very masculine. But Brown also managed to convey Barry’s anxiety that he might not be able to fend off the American takeover of his business . . . or his insecurity over the fact that his mistress prefer a younger man over himself. If I were to choose my favorite character in this film, it would have to be Sharon Ryan, portrayed by the always talented Toni Collette. Hell, the woman almost stole the picture from everyone else as the feisty, yet supportive mobster wife, who turned out to be more ruthless than her husband. She certainly earned a well deserved Best Female Actor nomination from the Film Critics of Australia. If I had my way, I would have handed over the award to her.
By the way, I have to give kudos to production designer Chris Kennedy, art director Chris Batson, and costume designer Tess Schofield for doing an excellent job for saturating the firm in a late 1960s atmosphere. Schofield took it further by conveying the generational differences between the characters in their costumes. Whereas Barry, Tony, Ray and Sharon’s costumes reflected their generation’s more conservative tastes, Margaret and Darcy’s reflected their generation’s participation in the Swinging Sixties. Geoffrey Hall’s cinematography struck me as pretty solid, but I cannot help but wonder how he felt about a certain scene that I found questionable. I am referring to the sequence that jumped back and forth between Tony and Sal’s participation in Barry’s boar hunt in the Outback and Barry’s Michael Corleone’s style murders of the Americans’ allies – his rivals and a traitor in his organization – back in Sydney. Frankly, it did not work for me. I now understand that Tony and Sal’s boar hunting was supposed to serve as a metaphor of Barry’s hunt of his enemies. But the whole sequence struck me as a bit sloppy and confusing . . . and I could have done without it.
Despite my one quibble about the movie, I can honestly say that I really enjoyed ”DIRTY DEEDS”. David Caesar had written and directed quirky and entertaining movie about Australian criminals and the effects of the Vietnam War in 1969. The movie’s cast and the production crew also did an excellent job of projecting the movie’s 1960s setting. I had enjoyed this movie so much that I am now searching for a DVD copy of it to buy. I only hope that I do not have to wait too long.