'The Legend Maker': Melbourne Review

Courtesy of Melbourne Film Festival
A stolid drama that's all tell, no show.

A professional forger comes under threat from a predatory crime ring in Ian Pringle's first feature in more than two decades

Australian writer-director Ian Pringle first made his mark in 1982 with the slow-moving but arrestingly atmospheric Plains of Heaven. He returns to features after a 23-year absence with The Legend Maker, a Melbourne-set thriller about a master forger, which lacks not only atmosphere but also narrative momentum and suspense. The micro-budget production values are less problematic than the fact that the film spends the vast majority of its running time wading through dull exposition.

Pringle was a producer on the ultra-violent 1992 skinhead drama Romper Stomper, a breakthrough vehicle for Russell Crowe that was also a precursor to subsequent unflinching crime studies from Down Under such as Chopper, Animal Kingdom and The Snowtown Murders. But despite its guns, thugs, tough talk and threats — not to mention a wall-to-wall carpet of agitated music in the absence of actual tension — the director’s new film just sits there. Even a flash of bloody torture midway through can’t inject much grit or goose this non-starter out of its torpor.

Adding texture to what’s essentially a character study, Pringle reflects on devalued lives in a duplicitous world in which everything is disposable, even identity. But there’s not enough substance here to give that theme much weight. In the moments when the drama flirts with ignition, you wonder if perhaps a filmmaker like Roman Polanski might have made something of the claustrophobic scenario and tight focus on a mercenary central figure who brings methodical purpose and a sense of honor to his criminal activity.

That man is Alan Figg (Tony Nikolakopoulos), the go-to guy in Melbourne for expertly forged passports, immigration documents, birth certificates, diplomas and anything a person in hot water might need to ditch his or her old life and create a new identity. Alan specializes in fabricating fully fleshed-out backstories for the right price. But his business is under siege from a lowlife known as the Croat (Fletcher Humphrys), who wants Figg to work exclusively for him. Or whomever he answers to.

While Alan holes up in his Brunswick office awaiting the arrival of the ominous Croat to strong-arm him into an agreement, the forger’s offsider Roy (Jeremy Kewley) tightens security. As an added precaution, Alan connects via webcam to his lawyer Harry (David Cameron) to ensure there’s a record of any eventual confrontation. But this is merely a bogus device in Pringle’s script to have Figg flesh out his backstory and his many exploits in Europe strictly for the audience’s benefit. He’s telling Harry things that surely his trusted legal advisor and confidant would already know.

That running commentary is punctuated by visits from clients, some of them legit and some decoys sent by the Croat to spook Figg. We also see evidence of his ethical side when he helps an African immigrant woman (Ratidzo Mambo) whose sister is in trouble. The most significant visitor is hard-edged Ukrainian operator Helena Yussipova (Danielle Carter), who specializes in check and credit card scams. She’s the kind of archly drawn character who would be right at home in a Russian mob parody, though played with pinched lips and utter seriousness.

Nikolakopoulos, who is primarily a seasoned local theater actor, is a commanding presence; big and burly, he brings quiet gravitas to the main role. But he’s unable to break free of the enveloping lethargy of a screenplay that’s all talk.

Where The Legend Maker really falls apart, however, is in the inconsistencies of Roy as a character. He’s established as a resourceful man who’s several steps ahead of every potentially dangerous situation, urging Alan to make a swift exit while he still can. But then he unwittingly exposes them to serious risk by buying the dubious tale of woe spun by a walk-in he met in the car park.

When the thriller’s various double-deals and tricks are exposed, and its antagonistic forces are thrown together, roughly 20 minutes before the end, Pringle continues to turn up his nose at any opportunity for visceral action by jumping ahead six weeks. It’s a frustrating choice in a film that’s as visually uninteresting as it is dramatically inert.

Cast: Tony Nikolakopoulos, Fletcher Humphrys, Jeremy Kewley, David Cameron, Adrian Mulraney, Steve Mousakis, Danielle Carter, Michael Vice, Sachin Joab, Ratzido Mambo, Shane Bugeja, Christos Iramiyan, Ahmed Taleb, Priscilla Walker

Production companies: Ian Pringle Films, The Backlot Films

Director-screenwriter: Ian Pringle

Producers: Ian Pringle, Glenda Hambly

Director of photography: Brian McKenzie

Production designer: Jemma Van Loenen

Costume designer: Rosanna Blacket

Music: Craig Jannson, Mark D’Angelo

Editor: Ken Sallows

No rating; 88 minutes