September 15, 2008
In Jonathan Ogilvie’s oddball period piece, set in 1920s Sydney, Hugo Weaving plays the menacing McHeath, a gangster who sidelines as a boxing promoter. But what McHeath really enjoys doing is crooning jazz-age tunes for his mates – he’s even got his own band. He certainly isn’t getting too many kicks out of his relationship with his girl, Iris (Rose Byrne), who has an eye for young boxer Art (Matt Le Nevez). Meanwhile, McHeath, who runs a nice earner as a supplier of sly grog, is suspicious of a rat in his ranks…
Writer/director Jonathan Ogilvie – after having deployed some well worn but still appealing gangster riffs in a pretty tight plot – lets the action move into an end play of cross and double cross, and yet none of it has any real kick. This flaccidity comes despite the steady bursts of violence, and the strong performances, particularly from Rose Byrne, who re-drafts the femme fatale as an independent soul as opposed to a black hearted gold digger.
Part of the problem with The Tender Hook is that Ogilvie fills the movie with alienation devices; period recreation is minimised, and in its place is digitised archival street footage and the deliberately anachronistic use of songs by Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, which are strategically placed to comment on the action in the same way that a more conventional musical might work. It’s like Ogilvie has theorised rather than felt his way through the material, elegantly drawing out its contours to deliver significance. And to be sure, when viewed as a piece based on a series of post-modern manoeuvres, The Tender Hook is clever. But it’s hardly a deep experience for the gut or the heart. At times, it feels like Ogilvie is embarrassed to be making just a gangster movie.