This clever Australian-made noir-like thriller is infused with the spirit of American crime writer James M Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice, etc), Hitchcock, and even the films of John Dahl (The Last Seduction, Red Rock West, etc).
Colin (David Lyons, from ER, Sea Patrol, etc) is on his way to a job interview in Broken Hill when he witnesses a car crash. Checking the ruined car he stumbles upon a suitcase that contains lots of cash. He also meets Jina (Emma Booth, from Underbelly, etc) and drives her to her lavish home on the outskirts of town. Then he heads into the nearby town of Neverest and hands the suitcase over to Frank (Jason Clarke, from Stingers, Death Race, etc), the local cop. But his good deed has unexpected ramifications as he is slowly drawn into a web of murder, violence, betrayal. Jina is the dissatisfied wife of Frank and she has her own plans for the money. Colin becomes the unwitting pawn in an elaborate cat-and-mouse game.
There are lots of twists and turns in the formulaic plot that involves two million dollars, a corrupt cop, a sultry femme fatale, an innocent man caught up in a web of violence and betrayal. There are also a couple of intriguing red herrings and the usual McGuffin. The title itself is evocative, not only because it refers to cars suddenly swerving or veering around an obstacle, but because it also refers to the various characters changing their moral compass in the face of temptation and unexpected situations.
The characters might be a bit one-dimensional, but that doesn’t matter as the three leads deliver strong performances. The solid cast also includes Vince Colosimo (Lantana) in a small role as a lecherous businessman, and veteran Roy Billing as a country cop. Travis McMahon brings a wonderfully sinister edge to his role as a hitman.
Swerve is the first feature film from writer/director Craig Lahiff in a decade. His last film was the 2002 drama Black And White, which was a recreation of the landmark 1958 South Australian Court trial, and a miscarriage of justice in the case involving Max Stuart, a young aboriginal convicted of the murder of a nine-year-old white girl. Lahiff brings plenty of pace and energy to the material and the film races along at a fast pace that rarely lets up. He has a good understanding of the tropes of the genre, but he also suffuses the material with a strong streak of dark and laconic humour. Lahiff and cinematographer David Foreman use the sparse Flinders ranges backdrop to good effect to create an atmosphere of isolation and menace. Paul Grabowski contributes a nice, quirky score for the film, and his slightly jazz-oriented take on the usually moody noir score adds an extra element and enhances the suspense.
Swerve is the kind of pacy thriller and unashamed crowd-pleasing genre piece that Australian filmmakers should make more of.
BY GREG KING
Swerve is showing from Thursday June 7 distributed through Jump Street Films.