Hooker With A Fist Of (Green And) Gold – The Tender Hook Review

The Tender Hook – Starring Hugo Weaving, Rose Byrne and Matthew Le Nevez. Directed by Jonathan Ogilvie. Rated M for violence, drug use and coarse language. 104 mins.

You would think that most Australian films were 3 hour dirges told in a foreign language the way audiences avoid seeing them. A successful Australian film is one that can achieve the minor feat of making back its own budget – yet it rarely happens. The last three successful local productions were Kenny, Wolf Creek and Happy Feet. Unfortunately, these three films are so different, it would be impossible to develop a winning formula based on them. So The Tender Hook finds itself in a tricky situation – can it drag audiences away from Wall-E, or will it be buried in an unmarked grave alongside Gabriel and December Boys.

Taking place in a stylized version of 1920’s Australia, The Tender Hook is a tragic love story and violent mobster film rolled into one. Hugo Weaving plays McHeath, an English fight promoter with a penchant for lounge singing. He selects up-and-coming boxer Art (Le Nevez) to train in his exclusive ring with Alby (Luke Carroll), a talented Aboriginal fighter. Of course, while McHeath loves a good fight, he prefers to dish out punishment of his own on those who do him wrong. This is bad news for his girlfriend Iris (Byrne), who develops an obsessive crush on Art, and vice-versa.

For the most part, the film is pretty entertaining. The film begins strongly, but gets muddy when a subplot involving stolen beer sets in. Unfortunately, that’s only one of many story threads that go nowhere. By the end of the film, you feel somewhat unsatisfied. Sure, the main storyline is wrapped up, but what of the countless other subplots that wind up unfinished. Thankfully, the acting is an effective distraction. Weaving is great as the crazed McHeath, playing the role with great theatricality, yet (mostly) avoiding any scenery eating. The beautiful Byrne is also good as Iris, although writer-director Jonathan Ogilvie has her do things completely out of character. Maybe she’s complex? No, I wouldn’t give her that much credit. I think it’s just a case of a good actress playing a badly written character.

The film does look amazing. The cinematography by Geoffrey Simpson (Oscar and Lucinda, Shine) is spectacular, particularly in the tighter shots following Byrne and Weaving. Interestingly, the film is intercut with old footage from the 20’s itself, apparently as an attempt to authenticate the time period. Very strange however, is the inclusion of the modern actors green-screened over the top of the old footage. It looks awful. It’s never for more than 3 or 4 seconds, and it usually involves them crossing the road, but it looks ridiculous. Intercut with the beautiful and richly coloured scenes preceding and following it, the effect does not do the film any favours.

In the first few moments of the film, McHeath laments the fact that there are plenty of fighters and entertainers in Australia, just no-one to come watch. You have to wonder if this is a dig at the current Australian film landscape. We have a giant talent pool finding success all over the world, but at home, people will pay money just to avoid them. So is The Tender Hook going to be the film that brings people back to local films? Well, it has an appealing cast, a decent story, and it looks pretty. But it’s just not great enough to make people talk about afterwards, and that’s what makes a hit Australian film. It’s a shame really. Sometimes an ‘OK’ Aussie film hurts just as much as a bad one.

2.5/5.

P.S. Sorry for that laborious pun at the top of the post. I’ll try not to do it again. Maybe.

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