Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Felix Williamson, left, and John Goodman play Tony and Sal, two American "mafia" reps in "Dirty Deeds."

Crime flick a hit

'Dirty Deeds' is an entertaining
ook Down Under as it was in 1969

Review by John Berger

A young Australian soldier returns to Sydney from Vietnam determined to be his own boss and possibly open a restaurant. But owning little more than the uniform he was "demobbed" in, he decides to take a job helping out his Uncle Barry, a local crime boss.

That's the set-up for an entertaining look back Down Under, as it was in 1969, as Bryan Brown, John Goodman, Felix Williamson and Sam Worthington star in "Dirty Deeds."


"Dirty Deeds"

Not Rated

Part of the Sixth Annual Hawaii International Spring Film Festival

9 p.m. today at Signature Dole Cannery

Star Star Star 1/2

Crime boss Barry Ryan (Brown) is the type of crook many Australians and Americans alike might be happy to count as a friend. He's capable of crippling an associate with a sledgehammer or looking a man in the eye as he shoots him in the head, but he's also loyal to his men, an attentive husband and a loving father. His racket is skimming the daily flow of coins that pass through the slot machines in the casinos he does business with. Ryan and his mates make their rounds each night and load buckets of coins onto the back of a flatbed truck. Some of those buckets (or their equivalent) are passed on to police detectives and politicians who gladly turn a blind eye to Ryan's sometime violent activities.

Director-screenwriter David Caesar offers a view of organized crime similar to that defined by Mario Puzo in "The Godfather" more than 30 years ago and shows us a basically benign enterprise in which most of the victims bring violence on themselves by being either greedy or dishonorable in their dealings with each other.

And, just like Don Corleone, Ryan has "business" problems to deal with. He's already contending with another local outfit that's trying to move in on his operations when he gets word that two Americans from "the Mafia" have arrived in Sydney.

The senior representative, Tony (Goodman), is a veteran negotiator and hatchetman, bulky, soft-spoken and world-weary after many years in the business. His partner, Sal (Williamson), is young, lean and very edgy. He's there to add muscle, a quick trigger finger and to keep an eye on the revolutionary new slot machine they've brought with them.

Tony explains that this new machine will speed up the process of separating gamblers from their money and modernize the Australian casino industry. He also brings a politely phrased offer from America that they'll let Ryan stay on as the local front man in what will become an American-owned operation.

Toni Collette, right, plays Sharon, the Australian crime boss's wife and Sam Worthington, his nephew Darcy, who's been instructed to keep an eye on her.

Ryan's response to the implied threat is to throw his new American friends a huge party in a Sydney nightclub and introduce them to the local gangsters, their wives, the police and key politicians. He also invites Tony and Sal to come to his home for dinner with his wife and young son.

When Ryan learns that Tony and Sal share his interest in big game hunting, he suggests that they all take a couple of days off in the Outback.

In the meantime, Ryan's ex-soldier nephew, Darcy (Sam Worthington), has become more involved in the business. Darcy is given the flat next to the one Ryan provides for his mistress, Margaret (Kestie Morassi), and told to keep an eye on her. Darcy's dreams of opening a restaurant are piqued when he discovers that Tony knows how to correctly prepare an exotic American dish he encountered in Vietnam but which is unknown in Australia -- pizza!

Numerous subplots embellish the action. Americans will find that the Australian settings, slang and late-1960s fashions combine to create a fresh spin on a familiar genre. A comic twist or two plays well against the basic crime-drama format.

Brown, who also co-produced, plays Ryan as a deceptively engaging but thoroughly dangerous rogue. To borrow another thought from "The Godfather," Ryan is a man of great personal force who can morph almost instantly from genial bloke to brutal executioner.

Goodman's portrayal of the world-weary invader of Ryan's turf adds another essential component in making "Dirty Deeds" more than a study in stark good guys-vs.-bad guys contrasts. Williamson is excellent as the most lethal of the designated villains, and Toni Collette brings a realistic feel to the role of Ryan's shrewd wife and business confidant.

Hawaii International Film Festival

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