Gettin’ Square (2003)
I know, I know. Gettin’ what? You’ve never heard of this movie. That’s because it was never released either to theaters or to DVD in this country, though we can get it now on Netflix and Google Play, and I’m so glad that we can! Gettin’ Square is an Australian crime caper. It’s lighthearted, sweetly funny, and perfectly acted throughout. Not a movie that will stick with you forever or anything like that, but it does what it’s designed to do: entertain. And it feels completely, deliciously Australian. This will mean the characters are sometimes somewhat unintelligible, but no worries, Mate.
The Basic Plot: Our hero, Barry (Sam Worthington) has been in prison for years for a crime he didn’t commit, doing his best to stay out of trouble and learning to cook in the prison kitchen. Upon his release, Barry is hired by an Englishman named Dabba (Timothy Spall), who is attempting to run a hysterically unsuccessful cowboy-themed restaurant on Australia’s Gold Coast. Barry’s younger brother is in danger of falling in with the old criminal crowd, and Barry develops a flirtation with his brother’s beautiful parole officer, played by a spunky and pleasantly tough Freya Stafford. The crime caper unfolds as our hero attempts to defeat the men who set him up, while he simultaneously protects his new employer from a criminal tax investigation. All this hinges on a friend Barry made in prison, a junkie named Johnny Spit, played with outstanding hilarity by David Wenham, of Lord of the Rings fame.
The scheme itself is not particularly easy to follow, given that it involves some dodgy tax evasion and lots of supporting characters. But give the movie time to unfold, and all the elements come together perfectly. The creativity and upbeat nature of the story carry it through a few clichéd scenes.
Moments to Watch For: the much-vaunted courtroom scene, where a very drugged-out Johnny Spit is called in to testify in front of the Criminal Investigations Committee is a masterclass in perfectly written dialog and borderline-over-the-top-but-not-quite acting by the marvelous David Wenham (even more on him in a moment). Funny in a deliciously “Who’s On First” sort of way that few movies bother with anymore, Johnny’s inability to answer even the most basic questions is so ingenious you’re never quite sure if he’s really smarter than he seems, or so stupid he’s getting away with it. I’m also fond of the the scene where he sticks up a gas-station with a screwdriver (or attempts to) and when he’s waiting to be questioned alone in a small room with nothing but a plastic chair, a table, and a buzzing fly to hold his attention. I’m not a huge fan of physical comedy usually, but Wenham made me laugh out loud as he scooted his chair manically backwards and then fell over when he hit the wall.
Actors to Love: David Wenham, as the junkie Johnny Spit, is so brilliant it’s impossible to fully describe (and the costume designer was a genius: I don’t know any heroin addicts, but if I did, I’m absolutely certain they’d wear slightly too small acid-wash ladies denim skinny pants). He’s funny, moving and totally convincing, even as you are both disgusted by him and rooting for him. For those of you who aren’t Lord of the Rings geeks, but who have seen the films, Wenham was the younger son who was nearly immolated by his father in the final movie. He will instantly dispel any remaining memories you have of that character when he steps on screen in his mullet and leopard-print thong undies. Hysterical.
But equally astonishing in this film is Sam Worthington. Yeah, that Sam Worthington, of Avatar and Clash/Wrath of the Titans “fame.” Full disclosure: I loved Avatar. No really, I did. If you want to tell me how it’s just Pocahontas with blue people, I will ignore you, as you clearly need to brush up on your history. If you email me to explain that it’s just Dances with Wolves with blue people, I will counter that The Lion King is just “Hamlet” with lions. Being derivative doesn’t stop me from enjoying that film, either. So now that we have that out of the way, I will note that I have also been “forced” by the airline industry to consume BOTH Titans movies, and they were both unabashedly, horridly, adverb-ly awful. Everyone involved should immediately sacrifice a goat to cleanse their souls. Seriously. So I understand that Sam Worthington is not always a great actor. But in this movie, perhaps because he’s playing a more gentle version of the wounded-warrior trope he did in Avatar, he’s fan-freakin’-tastic. My favorite moment is when his character, Barry, has been beaten up again by the baddies. And again, he has smothered his anger and just taken the beating because that’s the only option realistically available to average people when baddies with power beat them up. He has arrived, bloodied and bruised, at the house of our heroine in order to have that film cliché moment where they sooth his terrible injuries with sex one couldn’t actually have under those circumstances. Still with me? She reaches out to touch a cut on his face and he winces. “I thought you were supposed to be the tough guy,” she teases him gently. The expression on his face in that moment perfectly encapsulates all the character’s impotence in the face of his situation. I suppose that’s why they follow it with the sex, actually. But that single look is one of the best-acted moments I’ve ever seen on screen, and it’s Sam Worthington doing it. I can’t explain this. I’m just saying: it’s there.
Gettin’ Square is, in its own way, a near-perfect little movie. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!