Craig Lahiff’s film Swerve is better than thirty-five Hitchcocks and very much in the style. The very first shot, looking down from way up in the air at the dry dusty junction of three outback roads, is like the start of the crop-duster scene in North By North-West. The driving scene that follows is like some of the pre-Bates Motel sequences of Psycho. There are moments after that which remind one of Shadow Of A Doubt, Strangers On A Train, The Lady Vanishes and Vertigo….
But this is not to say it is a mere patching-together of old classic scenes from the forties, fifties, and sixties of the Master. It has a heartbeat, an erection, a nose for trouble of its own, throbbed along by Grabowsky’s fine, shrewd score.
It starts with a swerve, a three-car crash, a corpse, a suitcase full of hundred dollar bills, and the wary driving-home of one of the victims, Jina (Emma Booth), by another, Colin (David Lyons), before he meekly, unaccountably, takes the money to the police station and the head cop, Frank (Jason Clarke), of Neverest, a remote, eventless, played-out mining town, where a brass band competition is in preparation. The only hotels are full of trumpeters and cornettists, and Frank offers Colin a room at his farmhouse, where … he finds that Jina is Frank’s discontented wife; and she, swimming naked in the pool while Frank is briefly absent on that hot night in the town, tempts Colin, who narrowly resists her…
Booth is superb in this role, like Janet Leigh in Psycho, and January Jones in Mad Men, both worldly and startlingly young. She explains that Frank goes wild sometimes, and beats her, and nearly killed a fellow cop and was exiled here; and big, burly, grinning Jason Clarke, a bit like a handsome Paul Chubb, gets this genial-kindly mad-dog quality superbly.
A lot of murder ensues, while the brass bands march up and down the utterly empty streets, a corpse put down a disused mine shaft, another corpse discovered in it, a corpse recalled to life and vengeance, a train boarded that is full of cops and menaced by Charlie, a Steve McQueen lookalike (Travis McMahon), the man who was meant to receive the missing money and keen to see where it has gone, a good deal of struggling at the open door of the luggage compartment, and so on.
It all works very well. We see too briefly Roy Billing, Chris Haywood, Vince Colosimo and Robert Mammone, but the small town, outback, desert-under-mountains atmosphere, unique to the genre, which I guess might be called South Australian Gothic, is slowly rendered, magnificent framing by magnificent framing, in shots as good as those in Vertigo, moving sideways and breathing menace, unsurpassed in most American films, and superior to much of Hitchcock, Wilder, Hawks and Ford.
It is a pity that its release here (though not in America) was so quiet and crowded. Instead of, say, a Broken Hill premiere, and a couple of sessions on four weekends in the western suburbs and selected provincial cities, it was put out, as usual, in four sessions a day in multiplexes against Prometheus in 3D and Snow White and the Huntsman and The Way and Brave, where of course it was overwhelmed. I saw it in an empty cinema in Avalon, and it’s a pity.
I note that Craig, whom I’ve written films for, is casting well and directing performance brilliantly, at last. jason Clarke is Oscar-worthy, and David Lyons, the passive, wary, unadventurous Iraq war veteran wanting a quiet life, an ordinary job and a beer perhaps and a stray fuck, but not if it’s too much trouble, is reminiscent of the young Simon Burke. Which is praise indeed.
The editing, by Sean Lahiff, is as good as Dede Allen (praise indeed), the photography by David Foreman, better, I think, than any thus far in Australia, and Grabowsky’s score, augmented by Souza, and Verdi’s ‘Force of Destiny’, a quiet revolution.
See it, if you can find it, on a big screen. It’s very good indeed.