Sydney crim Barry (Bryan Brown) operates a healthy racket, milking illegal poker machines
around some of the unregulated clubs in the late 60s. He has Detective Ray (Sam Neill) on
the payroll, and a mistress, Margaret (Kestie Morassi) on the side. But his
smarter-than-she-looks wife (Toni Collette) has his number. When his innocent nephew Darcy
(Sam Worthington) returns from a tour of duty in Vietnam, it happily coincides with the
arrival of a couple of Chicago mobsters (John Goodman, Felix Williamson) who want in on
Barry's action. Young Darcy is sent to greet them in the first move of a welcome routine
that shows the Yanks what an unfair go looks like. Meanwhile, Darcy and Margaret get
together behind Barry's back - as do some of his so called loyal followers.
Review by Louise Keller:
The opening credits roll like a poker machine, and what a jackpot David Caesar has pulled!
Absorbing and wickedly entertaining, Dirty Deeds is a juicy, black thriller with a
delectable twist and a cast full of aces. Set in the days when pokies were called 'one
armed bandits' and you actually pulled a lever each time a coin was inserted (5 cents in
1969!), Caesar has created a satisfying and complete work that's gritty and very funny. At
first glance it seems totally different from his earlier films Greenkeeping, Idiot Box and
Mullet. But in each case, Caesar excels at his trademark of enveloping us into the story's
fabric. Darkly comic with an array of wonderfully colourful characters that buzz with
life, we are immediately drawn into the time and place, when flower power was erupting,
the musical Hair was playing, and eyeliner, oversize sunglasses and bouffant hairstyles
were the rage. Everyone's crooked, and we love them all - these distinctive characters
that have been so splendidly conceived on the page. The film looks and sounds great with a
ripper of an upbeat soundtrack, plus some tunes that will take Baby Boomers back. Simply
revelling in the role of Barry, a two-bit hood with a cowboy-like approach to crime, Bryan
Brown plays mean and nasty with plenty of bite. With the downward curl of the lip and his
piercing steely blue eyes that don't miss a thing, Brown is a knockout; his Barry is even
better than his impressive Pando from Two Hands. I love every moment of John Goodman's
screen time - his traditional Mafioso hood is at a loss when confronted by Barry's
laid-back Aussie-style thuggery. There are some magical moments indeed, none more than
those offered by Toni Collette, whose seemingly innocent housewife keeps her husband well
and truly in line. Yes, indeedy, there's real wile and finesse in the way she manages his
infidelity! Sam Neill's unabashed crooked cop brings corruption to new ludicrous lows,
while Sam Worthington and Kestie Morassi are appealing as the young lovers. The contrast
of the backstreets of Kings Cross with the vast, red dusty outback makes a great
juxtaposition, and things really hot up when Barry decides to teach the mafia 'big boys' a
lesson or two. Don't be afraid to dig in - Dirty Deeds is dynamite indeed!
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's not entirely clear on the evidence whether David Caesar set out to make a comedy, a
crime movie or a darkly funny drama, which is perhaps why he has ended up with a film that
combines all three. And that's not surprising, given that the screenplay developed through
a combination of factual research and creative script writing, with various
character-forming challenges and changes along the way. And I don't mind the fact that we
are kept a little on edge about the comedy when things get serious, or that we laugh dryly
when the humour shoots through a dramatic scene. For me, humour and drama are natural
twins in real life, and as long as I can engage with the characters in a compelling story,
I don't care what genre or movie style they are in. With Dirty Deeds, David Caesar has
stepped into the mainstream of filmmaking with an assurance worthy of international
acclaim and with every cinematic tool well under his control - driven by a natural sense
for what works on screen. Step into 1969 and see for yourself, as Bryan Brown returns to
the streets of Sydney as a crim, only this time he is much darker and more complex than
Pando in Two Hands. He's as funny as Chopper was, and for the same scary reasons. In fact,
the film's tone is closer to Chopper than either Two Hands or The Hard Word, both of which
play with the same sort of genre. Except for the period setting, of course, which adds a
layer of nostalgic fun to the film. Toni Collette develops her character beautifully and
with an angular strength that balances Bryan's Barry, while Sam Worthington and Kestie
Morassi are outstanding in crucial support roles, as are Goodman and Williamson playing
the two very different but credible mobsters. The script zings, the cast sings and the
music rocks; what more can you ask of a Saturday night at the movies?
Dirty Deeds is one of the many masterpieces that has been produced by the Australian film industry. It was first released in 2002 and stars some of the most popular Australian actors that the country can field, including notable names such as Bryan Brown and Toni Collette.
The plot revolves around 1960s Australia when the economy was booming, casinos were pretty much everywhere to be found and people were starting to make a really decent living after the war.
The story though follows a crafty casino Australia owner Barry Ryan who owns almost all of the gambling venues in Sydney and attracts some unwanted attention in the process. Naturally, this is nothing new for Barry as being involved in the gambling industry for so long, he’s naturally gone through similar hurdles in the past.
But to understand why exactly the American Mafia started eyeing up an Australian casino owner we need to go back in time during the 40s when the 2nd World War was still going on.
You see, the Pacific theatre, which involved the United States and Japan was mostly naval based, and required some safe havens for the yanks. One of those safe havens was Australia, where soldiers would wander off during resting intervals before missions and gamble their wages in the local casinos as well as pubs.
The American Mafia managed to hear about Barry’s casinos thanks to the tales of these yank gamblers that soon came back home and resumed their daily lives in the US society.
We all know how the American Mafia has been depicted in other movies and the true stories we’ve heard about the lengths they’d go for some free cash through extortion. But Barry is definitely no pushover. He challenges the yanks head-on without holding back and stands his ground.
This leads to a lot of outbackish shootouts and confrontations, all the while Barry is trying to stabilize his relationship with a demanding mistress and a quite emotional spouse.
THE SUCCESS OF THE MOVIE
The movie was an immediate hit with Aussies and quickly caught the attention of American viewers as well. The Australian box office grossed somewhere around $5 million with a couple more million in the US market.
Overall, anything that includes casinos, mafia, and some well-shot shootout action will grab the attention of any viewer from any background.
Published October 22, 2019
Email this article
BRYAN BROWN and DAVID CAESAR talk to Andrew L. Urban over a beer.
DIRTY DEEDS (MA)
CAST: Bryan Brown, Toni Collette, John Goodman, Sam Neill, Sam Worthington, Kestie Morassi, Felix Williamson, Andrew S. Gilbert, William McInnes
PRODUCER: Deborah Balderstone, Bryan Brown
DIRECTOR: David Caesar
SCRIPT: David Caesar
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Geoffrey Hall
EDITOR: Mark Perry
MUSIC: Paul Healy
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Chris Kennedy
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hoyts
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 18, 2002