MRR Review: "Swerve"

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Swerve is an Australian thriller directed by Craig Lahiff. The film was shot in 2010, completed in 2011 and premiered in Australia at the Melbourne International Film Festival
2.5

MRR Review: "Swerve"

Rating: R (some sexuality/nudity, language, and violence)
Length: 86 minutes
Release Date: December 6, 2013
Directed by: Craig Lahiff
Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller

Fans of forties noir flicks will enjoy "Swerve," an Aussie thriller from writer and director Craig Lahiff. While most modern thrillers of this type are self-referential neo noir, "Swerve" plays it straight with all of the classic film noir elements.

The story starts with an unnamed drug dealer who is killed in a car accident after double crossing an unknown man. Inside one of other cars on the road is a beautiful, distressed woman named Jina (Emma Booth) who wants to escape the small town of Neverest. When Colin (David Lyons), the film's everyman, stops to help Jina, he finds a suitcase full of money from the fatal car accident. Wanting to do the right thing, Colin gives the money to the local police sergeant, who happens to be Jina's husband, Frank (Jason Clarke). He also drives a seemingly reluctant Jina back to town. However, it's not long before the suitcase of money begins to trade hands, Jina's affections seem to shift, and Colin realizes that not everything is as simple as he thought.

The interplay between the three main characters is excellent, with each actor successfully maintaining his or her part of the mystery. The ambiguity of Emma Booth's performance allows the audience to continue guessing whether she has true feelings for Colin or has ulterior motives. David Lyons is convincing as a man who truly wants to help Jina without sleeping with her. Jason Clarke's performance is also first rate, but this fact won't surprise audiences who have already seen the actor in "The Great Gatsby" or "Zero Dark Thirty." From the moment Clarke's character, Frank, is introduced, he's the perfect embodiment of a small-town policeman. But as the film's plot begins to unravel, so does Frank as he struggles to maintain control of his wife and the small town he rules.

Ramping up the tension is Charlie (Travis McMahon), who is desperately searching for the missing money. McMahon's role isn't unique; he's the villain willing to kill anyone who obstructs his path. Despite the thinness of his character, McMahon still delivers a cold menace that manages to chill audiences. Vince Colosimo also gives a great performance as the town's local businessman who's willing to play all the angles.

Lahiff is no stranger to being both a writer and director, but he might have benefited from a fresh set of eyes on "Swerve's" script. The script is obviously carefully plotted, but it has few twists that will surprise audiences familiar with the noir genre, and some throwaway details, such as the marching-band convention being held in the town, are quickly dropped and never explored or explained. While surprises are not a necessity in a movie that doesn't claim strict allegiance to film noir, "Swerve" doesn't have the type of plot or indelible characters that would be required to make it a crime drama. It's clear that Lahiff loves film noir, but he doesn't seem to be making a contribution of his own to the genre.

As a director, Lahiff is able to elicit good performances from his actors and keep the plot humming along. The first six minutes of the film are entirely without dialogue, but Lahiff still gives audiences enough information to provide the foundation for the movie. Unfortunately, a few of the actions sequences seem to get away from Lahiff and require the audience to suspend disbelief. A jump onto a speeding train and a fall down a mineshaft are the most egregious offenders, but nothing in the film is implausible enough to ruin the atmosphere.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of "Swerve" is the atmospheric cinematography delivered by David Foreman. Although many noir films use rain or darkness to set the mood, Foreman is able to mold the gritty South Australian desert into the perfect setting for this crime thriller. The opening sequence, which is terrific, works largely because of Foreman's expertise. Foreman also manages to capture the stillness and claustrophobic nature of small towns in the Outback. Composer Paul Grabowsky's use of moody strings in the film's second half are also an excellent contribution.

"Swerve" is a by-the-numbers noir thriller that still manages to deliver an enjoyable experience to the audience. Fans of Aussie filmmaking will find plenty to appreciate here. The standard crooked cop, possibly duplicitous woman, and suitcase full of cash are all used to great effect, but audiences who demand lots of unexpected plot twists should look for a different film. Still, "Swerve" is still a good popcorn movie for audiences who enjoy action and suspense.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5