(Alan White, Australia, 2001)


After the successes of Chopper (2000) and Two Hands (1999), Australian filmmakers began latching onto the crime and thriller genres as hopefully lucrative commercial vehicles.


Alan White’s Risk shows how Australian ventures in these realms often hesitate weakly between two overseas models: the dry, laconic, low-energy British television example; and the American film noir in its classic or modern variations. (White is, in fact, British-born, and his subsequent projects catapulted him to USA and elsewhere.)


A synthesis between these two models is possible – Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (1997), for instance, combined a leisurely character study with tricky thrills – but Risk is a miscalculated, bloodless affair.


John Armstrong’s script, set in the shady world of insurance fraud, clearly aims to take a shine from Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944). Ben (Tom Long) is an idealistic novice who comes under the corrupting influence of Kreisky (Bryan Brown) and his seductive consort, Louise (Claudia Karvan). Unforeseen mishaps, secret alliances and ambiguous betrayals eventually kick the story into action mode.


For White, the film is a step backwards after his impressive, low-budget debut, Erskineville Kings (1999). Risk never finds a dynamic style, and much of it plays like a drab telemovie. Endless talky, indoor scenes (when will Australian screenwriters give up on unnecessary, redundant, voice-over narration?) alternate with distorted, wide-angle shots of streets and buildings – a tiresome affectation.


It falls down in the casting and direction of actors. Karvan struggles valiantly with an underwritten part which is neither psychologically complex nor amusingly stereotypical. Modern makers of noir must either embrace the femme fatale cliché or subvert it; options in-between are hopelessly wishy-washy.


Long is asked to project the naive goofiness that has already become his screen trademark in films such as the ailing Strange Planet (1999). At the start, his cartoonish exaggeration is fine; half an hour in, it grates and undermines the credibility of the tale. As for Brown, he often reminds me of Gary Cooper at his worst: self-conscious, as if embarrassed to be doing something so sissy as acting. His line readings are rarely convincing.


As routine crime thrillers go, Risk certainly plods through the standard moves and delivers a few exciting or amusing moments. It is the kind of movie that one might watch, half distracted, at 4am (Australian Cinema at 4am, now there’s a great title for a critical book!). But Risk falls far short of being a decent cinematic achievement.

© Adrian Martin May 2001

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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