Monday, September 22, 2008

The Tender Hoo...ooh Something Shiny!

As I attempted to write something down about Jonathan Ogilvie's stylish-but-empty noir romance The Tender Hook I racked my brain for hours. Yet nothing seemed to be jumping out at me. It's not that I thought it was an especially bad movie, although it really must be said that it isn't any good, it's just that... well... I was so nonplussed by the whole endeavour. Upon leaving the cinema on that Sunday afternoon I felt no different to how I felt when I entered. I hadn't had any grant realisation at any point, I hadn't had any strong reaction be it positive or negative. I just was. It's a strange feeling to be sure.

As it is, the film revolves around the character of Iris (Rose Byrne) who becomes trapped in a love triangle between the (I think) mob boss McHeath (Hugo Weaving) and his new boxing recruit Art (Matt Le Nevez). Cue sneaking around, shadowing double-crosses and a storyline about illegal beer that not only goes nowhere, but appears out of thin air to disrupt any chance of the viewing becoming engaged by the other plot lines that float around on the fringe. The possibly interesting story of an Aboriginal boxer (Luke Carroll) could have been something (with wafts of September, natch) but it just flounders about before Ogilvie just dumps it for something shiny.

I want to commend writer/director Ogilvie (they're always writer/directors aren't they?) for at least attempting a go at a genre that this country so rarely churns out, but in doing so on what I presume was a limited budget, he has stifled any chance of it being truly memorable. Period-accurate production design is virtually non-existent save for a few old automobiles while dialogue is distinctly modern at times and Weaving's character inexplicably sings songs written by Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen despite there being no precedence for the film pulling a Moulin Rouge! on the audience. It's all a bit of a mish-mash.

Thankfully the gorgeous Byrne is quite nice in the role and she definitely fits the flapper garb that she gets given with those big splashes of lipstick. Pia Miranda has a few brief moments of loveliness early on, but her character ultimately goes nowhere and is superfluous. In fact Byrne and Miranda share the film's best moment, an impromptu dance sequence on a pier that is light and wonderful. The opening/closing sequences are also really well done, but the rest is just so unexciting. Jeffrey Simpson's cinematography is quite well done, and the costumes by Cappi Ireland are nice to look at. It's just that things happen and nobody particularly cares. The characters themselves even appear passive and the boxing sequences are unexciting due to a distinct lack of atmosphere. Did they not have enough money to pay for extras? These scenes are bathed in a suspicious darkness and the sound design does nothing to get us involved.

Even Ogilvie's weird insertion of archive footage doesn't register much more than a raised eyebrow. So unassumingly average was The Tender Hook that, in fact, the only aspect of the film that I had a strong reaction to was, of all things, the title design. For some reason the filmmakers decided to use some ungodly ugly default Windows font for the credits and any on-screen notes ("Sydney - The Jazz Age" for example). I was utterly perplexed as to why they'd use it. Times New Roman would have been a more apt font to use for such a thing.

So, really, it's all just a big beige. As I said at the start, writing anything about this film is just so hard because there is nothing at all that jumps out as being particularly noteworthy. As you've noticed this review is merely a laundry list of what a review "should" include. Plot? Check. The actors? Check. Technical aspects? Check. I didn't care for it, but it's not like I really regretted seeing it (perhaps if I had of paid for it then I would have), I just picked myself up and moved right along. C / Whatever


Syms Covington said...

"...on what i presume was a limited budget..."

$7 million, my friend. I should run a competition to find out where it went - probably the same place that the $25 million for Rogue went.

Kamikaze Camel said...

Wow, $7mil? Really? REALLY? What? Did six of it go to Hugo and Rose? Couldn't they, ya know, build a set for that cost?

Kamikaze Camel said...

That actually almost makes me wanna take it down a grade!

Syms Covington said...


After its premiere at Dungog earlier this year a prominent funding body employee told me the film was a "tragic misfire".

Actually in another article (on Urban Cinefile) around the time of Dungog, the budget was said to be $10 million.

Interesting that famously "shot it in Melbourne and made it look like Sydney" but with all the establishing shots being grainy stock footage, they could have easily shot it in a barn in rural Qld and got the same look.

Syms Covington said...

In a lobbying attempt to get you to bring it down a grade, here are my five 'favourite' parts of the film:

1. The beer plot. WTF?

2. Remember when his drink was drugged and then it sort of flashes forward and they are slapping him and trying to wake him up like 24 BLOODY HOURS LATER. I'm sure they were at the table with him when he had the drink, so they would have known something fishy was up then, and what boxing promoter in his right mind would let his prize fighter out on the town without supervision. Plot holes? I know let's jump forward with no explanation; the audience will never notice with all this period shit goin on.

3. The sheer jump between when the boxer wins the fight and then appears in bed with Byrne on the train. Oops, never mind explaining how they slipped away from Weaving unnoticed, or how they are on the SAME FREAKING TRAIN as the others. Maybe I fell asleep at this point and it was explained.

4. Why the hell they introduced such a compelling point about race and racism and sport, and then not only was it swept aside, but Weaving's character later goes completely against character and rigs him to win, despite earlier explanations that audiences from that time wouldn't accept a win from a black boxer, or something - I was dozing at this stage.

5. Seriously WTF was with the beer subplot? It was supposed to raise tension and suspicion, however the goons just dismissed it and blamed it on that (token: got to get the period right, see) Chinese character who had been elaborately set up as (possibly the only) problem in Weaving's supposed underworld dominiom. And then they FREAKIN kill him off screen! WTF. I reckon he just wasn't available the day they were to shoot his death so the director was like "Pfft, I want to be like No Country For Old Men; they did it off screen".

I am replaying this from the memory of seeing this back in June, but think I'm pretty dead on in my recollection.

Glenn said...

You're pretty accurate with all of those although the whole bit about the train is fuzzy for me and I only saw it two weeks ago.

Anonymous said...

So the NSW FTO wouldn't touch this film with a barge pole - perfectly understandable given that the screenplay manages to be smug and self-knowing, stupid and incoherant, trite and cliched, boring and silly all at the same time. So what clown thought it was worth funding to the tune of $7 million? I mean it's not like the flaws wouldn't have been obvious right from the start. They're right there in the screenplay and it wouldn't have required a particularly discerning eye to uncover them. Good call for the FTO I would have thought. The film managed to recoup a whole $50,000 back on the $7 million invested. But then what cost to the writer/director? I just noticed he's manage to con someone else into giving him $28,000 to develop his next script. Don't know what he made out of The Tender Hook but it seems that he's making a tidy enough living for himself. All that's required is gall and thick skin...