“If something was to come your way, I mean something so irresistible that you just had to have it, do you think you could sacrifice everything for it and not regret it?”
When it comes to down-on-their-luck men in movies, that “something” could be any number of things. Oh, who am I kidding? It’s pretty much always a woman or a large sum of money. In Swerve — a twisty Australian thriller that goes down a number of familiar roads — our hero is tempted by both.
On his way to a job interview in South Australia, Colin (David Lyons) witnesses a near collision between the jerk who was frantically trying to pass him on the road (Robert Mammone) and an alluring woman named Jina (Emma Booth). Jina escapes unhurt, but the other guy isn’t so lucky. As he surveys the dead man’s car, Colin finds a suitcase stuffed with money and a map to the town of Neverest.
Colin turns the money over to Frank (Jason Clarke), who is seemingly the only cop in Neverest. Since Colin’s car needs a mechanic, Frank invites Colin over to spend the night at his home. Turns out Jina is Frank’s wife, and Colin quickly realizes the couple isn’t what anyone would consider “happily married.” As Jina cozies up to Colin, the various players — including Charlie (Travis McMahon), an associate of the guy who perished in the car accident — scramble to get their hands on that suitcase full of money.
Writer/director Craig Lahiff opens the film with a nifty, nearly dialogue-free six-minute sequence that shows how Colin, Jina, and our mysterious suitcase owner came to be in the same stretch of road at the same time. (These opening scenes feature a deadly drug deal, and Jina packing up her suitcase to leave town.) The problem is — despite some terrifically desolate shots of the South Australian landscape — those opening minutes turned out to be the extent of Lahiff’s desire to innovate.
I can appreciate that Swerve tells a simple, familiar story: Colin has to decide whether he can trust/resist Jina, even as the film drops hints that Colin may not be the first sap Jina has tried to rope into her rocky marriage. It’s just that this noirish material is so simple and so familiar, I wish Lahiff had brought more of his own spin to the genre beyond some captivating shots of the Australian outback.
You don’t have to squint very hard to see bits of DNA of everything from Body Heat to Red Rock West. There are also plot points reminiscent of the Coen Bros’ filmography (particularly Blood Simple and the drug money pursuit of No Country for Old Men). The difference is each of those movies had assured filmmakers at the helm, while Swerve seems to bound from one plot point or violent set piece to the next without leaving much of an impression. For example, I think Lahiff could’ve gone all-in on the small-town weirdness. (Think Oliver Stone’s U-Turn, another movie about a drifter with car trouble who meets a seductive married woman, and the memorable nut jobs played by the likes of Billy Bob Thornton, Joaquin Phoenix and more.) Instead, Lahiff names his mythical town “Neverest”, but the only quirk he offers is a marching band whose frequent appearances don’t really pay off.
Thankfully, the cast is filled with Australian natives who came to play. Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) and Lyons (NBC’s Revolution) have made names for themselves in Hollywood, and seemed to relish the opportunity to work back home. Clarke, in particular, has a gleefully mad glint in his eye that makes you believe that Jina would desperately want to get away from a live wire like Frank. (I also enjoyed the fact that Frank is blind with rage at his wife’s betrayal, even though he doesn’t know exactly what’s going on.) Meanwhile, Lyons doesn’t have too much to play beyond Colin’s decency; we learn Colin previously worked as an engineer in Iraq, so Lyons doesn’t even get the usual “in over his head” beats. Still, he makes for an appealing — if somewhat bland — protagonist.
With her arsenal of short dresses (and even less clothing at other times), Booth certainly looks the part of a femme fatale. Unfortunately, the same inscrutability that makes Jina impossible to trust results in a lack of connection for the audience. Booth, like the character, hedges her bets and vacillates between acting vulnerable and like a badass; the best femme fatales pick one quality and hint at the other. Like I said earlier, the rest of the supporting characters in Neverest — including Jina’s nosy boss Sam (Vince Colosimo) — don’t feel fully fleshed out, even when they end up playing an important part in the story.
The film wraps up with a silly climactic set piece aboard a train. There’s also a final, tacked-on twist just for good measure. Swerve is lean, but I actually wish it had been a little meaner. The movie clocks in at a sleek 87 minutes, so even the bits that don’t work go by too fast for you to realize how silly they are.
Swerve is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The 1080p image is arrived with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 30 mbps. The film’s greatest strength is its spectacularly vast and arid outback setting. (This is a good place to give kudos to cinematographer David Foreman.) The Blu-ray is at its best and brightest when it’s presenting these scenes. Color and contrast are spot-on, and the image is sharp, clear, and features pleasing texture upon close inspection. I wish I could say the same for the scenes that take place at night. Some medium shots appear a little soft and muddled, and black levels could’ve been a bit deeper. These scenes, along with some assorted shots filmed from inside cars, are a noticeable come down from the panoramic shots of the Aussie landscape. Still, it’s not enough to significantly downgrade this strong HD image.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track makes a great impression immediately. Since the first six minutes don’t feature any dialogue, a good portion of the storytelling burden is placed on Paul Grabowsky’s peppy, Western-style score and a vibrant sound field. The track features excellent directionality; when a car speeds down the road on screen, the sound is heard traveling from one rear speaker to the next. The plot-propelling car crash — along with an early explosion — give the subs a nice workout in the early part of the film. Ambient noise is present in the surrounds (especially during the train finale), though it does have to fight for space with Grabowsky’s music. Dialogue is clear throughout.
Interviews with Cast and Crew: A series of short interviews with actors Jason Clarke (3:38), Travis McMahon (1:43), Robert Mammone (1:30), and editor Sean Lahiff (2:18). As you can probably guess from their brief running times, none of the interviews really offer any penetrating insights. The actors talk about returning to make a movie in South Australia, while the interview with Lahiff doubles as the film’s mini “Making Of” by giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the staging of the crash. Presented in standard definition (strike one), and there’s no Play All option (it’s only strike two, but you can still skip these interviews)/
Swerve was filmed in 2010-11, but it’s just now making its Blu-ray debut thanks to the Cohen Media Group.
Even though this isn’t the first film to bring a noirish story into the blinding sun, the movie’s Aussie’s setting — seen and heard quite well on this disc — is the best reason to check it out. However, as with most films that lean heavily on its genre predecessors, Swerve will mostly remind you of a bunch of movies that are much better than this one.