Swerve: Film Review

This heat-baked noir thriller from Australia sets a blistering pace.

Australian director Craig Lahiff’s thriller focuses on an honest guy who stumbles upon a suitcase of money and a decapitated body on a desert highway.

The sun-bleached terrain of the Australian outback is not the natural habitat of the noir thriller, so Craig Lahiff’s feisty genre outing is a neat surprise.

Drawing more on the small-town milieu of James M. Cain – bored housewives and jealous husbands and such – than Raymond Chandler’s dark urban topography, this well-acted production ticks all the essential pot-boiler boxes and earns a distinction by virtue of its unconventional setting.

Swerve can’t avoid some narrative potholes and occasionally veers into wild implausibility, but the intricately plotted tale, jumpstarted by an honest guy who stumbles upon a suitcase of money and a decapitated body on a desert highway, is a straight-up crowd-pleasing genre piece that holds its own against similar Hollywood fare. It has played well on the festival circuit and, after finally securing a local theatrical release, has been picked up by Cohen Media for the U.S. with additional sales to the U.K. and other territories.

The skies may be big and bright over the fictional outback town of Neverest, but there are shadowy games afoot. Colin (David Lyons) is driving cross-country to a job interview when he witnesses a (quite spectacular) car crash involving a double-crossing drug-dealer who swerves to avoid a head-on collision with a hot blonde in a convertible. Scooping up a bagful of cash left behind by the now-deceased crook, Colin escorts a shaken Jina (Emma Booth) home and drives into town to hand the money in to the police.   

Soon the out-of-towner is embroiled in a sticky web of betrayal and suspicion involving a dirty cop with a short fuse (Jason Clarke), his femme-fatale wife and a ruthless hitman (Travis McMahon).

Character development is sacrificed to the elaborate plot, although Booth (The Boys Are Back) is suitably seductive and there’s a standout performance from rising star Clarke, who impressed in Cannes as a perpetually drunk bootlegger in the Prohibition-era drama Lawless.

Writer-director Lahiff, whose last film was the serious-minded legal drama Black and White a decade ago, is clearly having fun, tipping his hat to Hitchcock and the Coen brothers while keeping tension high. Proceedings unravel a bit in the third act with characters doing increasingly daft things, and the unconsummated relationship at the film’s heart never quite convinces in the way it needs to.

David Foreman’s elegant widescreen lensing works in harmony with the sun-blistered landscape of South Australia’s Flinders Ranges to give a keen sense of remote desolation, and the end sequences aboard a speeding train are thrillingly shot. An eclectic, jazzy score by Paul Grabowsky heightens suspense while the clamorous backdrop of a small-town marching-band competition adds a kooky touch.

Opens: Australia, June 6
Cast: Jason Clarke, Emma Booth, David Lyons, Travis McMahon, Vince Colosimo
Production company: Duo Art Productions
Writer-director: Craig Lahiff
Producers: Helen Leake, Kent Smith, Craig Lahiff
Executive producers: Mark Vennis, Gary Phillips, Bryce Menzies
Director of photography: David Foreman
Production designer: Tony Cronin
Costume designer: Ruth De La Lande
Music: Paul Grabowsky
Editor: Sean Lahiff
Sales: Moviehouse Entertainment
No rating, 83 minutes