The Hard Word

“The Hard Word” has a hard time committing to anything. It is, more than anything else, a heist film in which a team of criminals works to pull off a major theft, double-crossing each other all the while. Except the double-crosses are almost negligible and told to us early on, and the intricate planning of the heist itself takes only a few moments.

The rest of the time, the film seems unsure what it wants to be about, only that it wants to be edgy while it’s doing it. It introduces us to three career criminals, the Twentyman brothers of Australia (whence the film comes). Dale (Guy Pearce) is the smart, shaggy, rabbity one; Mal (Damien Richardson) is the simple one; Shane (Joel Edgerton) is the rageful, obsessive, possibly insane one.

When we meet them, they are all doing time in the same prison. Life in the lockup doesn’t seem to bother them; you get the idea they’ve been there a while, don’t cause any trouble, and are liked by wardens and inmates alike.

Nonetheless, freedom is better, and so when their dishonest lawyer Frank (Robert Taylor) springs them, they are glad to be out. Nonetheless, stealing is in their blood, and so they perpetrate an armored-car heist almost immediately upon being released, are caught, and are soon back in prison.

This time, getting them out will require a little more effort, but Frank has some tricks up his sleeve. It is also worth mentioning that he is sleeping with Dale’s wife Carol (Rachel Griffiths), and that he may have ulterior motives for getting Dale and the boys out of jail.

When he does, however, he has a job in store for them. Then the trouble really begins.

Written and directed by Scott Roberts (in his directorial debut), the film is a mixture of blood and dark comedy befitting a Tarantino film, except “The Hard Word” doesn’t really commit to that either. The violence escalates as the film nears its conclusion, then quickly drops off again, as if Roberts was only tinkering with the idea of staging a bloody comedy, not actually perpetrating one.

The acting is good, and the major characters are likable. The interaction among the brothers is especially good, and believable enough that we buy their loyalty to each other. But the conclusion is unsatisfying. It doesn’t pay off the way heist movies — which this is — ought to.

C (1 hr., 43 min.; R, lots of harsh profanity, some sexuality, some nudity, some strong violence.)