Australian film Swerve, was an enjoyable outing. It had some good things going for it, and some things that got in the way. For a start, any film that begins with the premise of a man's body in a car with a briefcase full of money on the seat next to him, in the middle of nowhere, is going to remind viewers of the remarkable Coen brothers' film No Country for Old Men – one of the best films in recent years. Comparing Swerve to No Country is obviously going to see Swerve come off second best – I mean, something adapted from a novel by Cormac McCarthy and made by the Coens is always going to come out on top. Also, I feel that while I enjoyed most of the twists and turns (the cause and effect of the film), I wonder whether if the story had been more focussed on one of the strands it tried to tell rather than two, if the end product wouldn't have been just a little bit sharper.
The films opens with an image of a crossroads and many representations of means of transport; featuring shots of planes, trains and automobiles (come on, I had to). Following on from this idea of motion, one thing I'd say Swerve has going for it is a nice pace. It rollicks along after a somewhat careful opening, which felt as if they were trying to make sure that everyone could follow, at least at the beginning. So, we meet a guy driving down a lonesome country road with bad facial hair who is wearing aviators and we know straight away that he is a dick. We are proven right before too long as he causes another nameless character's demise before speeding off with a suitcase full of money and driving like a maniac.
Cut to a house in the middle of nowhere. An attractive woman (played by Emma Booth) is packing a bag, taking a much smaller amount of money, than what Aviators has in his briefcase, from the safe and blazing out of town in a white dress and a white convertible. Next we meet Colin (played by David Lyons), who's having car trouble on the road and no one is stopping to help him. He makes a temporary fix and plans to detour to the nearest town Neverest, rather than continuing on to Broken Hill which is his final destination.
Aviators is driving on the wrong side of the road and too quickly. The woman in the convertible is also speeding. They end up headed straight for each other. She swerves out of his way and he loses control of his car, goes off the road, flips it and ends up dead.
Colin is just behind this action on the road. He tells the lady to wait in his car and goes to check on Aviators. He finds the briefcase full of money and a map with Neverest Hotel 12:30 written on it. So he drops the lady home and heads in to the hotel to see if he can find out what's going on. This point is a bit silly. I'm sure the man could remember to meet at the Neverest Hotel at 12:30, but we need Colin to find out about this rendezvous so we are given this map and it is just a little lazy for mine. Anyway, no one shows at this meet, but the local copper (played by Jason Clarke) turns up at the pub. Colin tells him about the crash and the money and they go out to the crash site together. Turns out that Colin can't get his car fixed till the next day, and as there's a battle of the bands on in town all accommodation is fully booked so, the cop, Frank offers Colin a place to stay.
As they drive down a familiar looking driveway we realise that the woman at the crash was none other than Frank's wife, Jina. If it seems like I'm giving too much away never fear, there are plenty more twists to come.
Where the film loses focus however, is as it oscillates between telling the story of the toxic marriage of the woman and Frank, and of their tempestuous history, and the other story of the money in the car – whose was it, whose is it now, who knows about it. To bring No Country for Old Men into in again, (unfair of me I know) in that film we know about his wife, but we know minimal back-story. It's still enough for us to care and worry about them both. In Swerve we are given a plethora of surface information about the two characters but I still found myself not very invested in the wellbeing of either of them. The split focus doesn't add anything to the film.
We also have a villain here in Swerve who is after the money but he has none of the spine-tingling creepy factor of Chigurh from No Country about him. Again, an unfair comparison as Chigurh is one of the most frightening film characters of the last decade at least. The villain here is still cold and calculating though and a man of few words. Perhaps you'll ask why I keep comparing it to another film rather than judging Swerve alone. We all compare everything to other things as we consume them, but I feel it prudent to point out that by taking on this story the film-makers have opened themselves up to these comparisons.
As we head deeper into the mire of the narrative however, we encounter events that build story, but not tension. The plot becomes convoluted, but never quite reaches true complexity. Sometimes layers and twists add and deepen meaning and build empathy for characters as we ask ourselves what would we have done in their position – but sometimes, like here, they just add layers and twists for the sake of layers and twists.
To add depth and meaning, the film needed to invest more time in exploring the characters psyches, they needed to be more developed. Instead, we have lots of action but not much character development. It's sounding like I didn't like the film so I'll repeat - it was enjoyable. It just never quite passes enjoyable to anything more substantial. Maybe it doesn't want to; maybe it just wants to tell a ripping yarn. But I got the feeling it was aiming for something deeper.
Frank and Jina are easier than Colin to identify with as they act. They aren't likeable but they seem more real. Colin, who sits back and reacts to everything, is the innocent bystander who's been dragged into it all, but who I just can't feel sorry for as he bumbles around a little too much for me to ever get to liking him. When he has the chance to get away from it all he doesn't take it.
Flies permeate many scenes of the film. We see characters flick them away and we hear their buzz. It gives a nice Australian flavour to the proceedings, but more than that, I think it hints that there's something rotten drawing them in – the money, the toxic marriage, the town itself – they seem to promise that there's something rotten here and we will get to the bottom of it. There's also a particularly and unintentionally funny line, 'Well, you keep your sticky fingers outta there, this is a crime scene!' Only in an Aussie film can I imagine hearing this dialogue.
The score was interesting but I sure would've liked a scene at that Battle of the Bands, I want to know what all the fuss, and all the accommodation being fully booked-out was for. The actors' performances were good, particularly from John Clarke as Frank who portrayed that type of person who can seem nice but also turn on a dime to seem psychotic.
There's a nice little twist at the end of the film but it doesn't quite raise it above being a pleasant diversion and into a true main attraction. A few of the events and twists are just a little too silly, the story amping itself up to be far bigger and more convoluted than it had to be. Sometimes the best story is the simplest one. If Swerve had stayed a little more focussed it could have been must-see, but instead finds itself worth seeing, but nothing more. Still, it is much better than a lot of the other rubbish out there and I hope it brings the film-makers some success.