Judge Gordon Sullivan is out back.
Wrong turn. Wrong place. Wrong time.
Voltaire once said "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." The idea is that if there is no divine entity, humanity would need to come up with one to help guide our actions. The same cannot be said of hell. Whether hell exists or not is immaterial because we have a physical analogue right here on earth: Australia. Like many depictions of hell, the island can seem inviting, like a paradise, with its glittering beaches and beautiful flora. As one gradually enters the country, like descending into hell, one finds more and more animals designed to kill and less and less habitable space. Of course there is no Satan in the middle of Outback waiting for hapless sinners, but those who venture there unprepared will almost certainly not notice the difference. Into this landscape comes the film Swerve, a down-under take on the road-trip noir genre that works surprisingly well.
Colin (David Lyons, Revolution) witnesses an accident on a lonely Australian road. He finds a decapitated driver with a suit full of ill-gotten drug money and a housewife who's badly shaken by the experience. Colin does the right thing and takes the housewife, Jina, home and gives the money to the local police. His part should be played out, but as the last contact with a dead drug runner, his life gets more and more complicated.
In some ways, Swerve is a bit like the Australian version of Oliver Stone's often-forgotten U-Turn. In both cases we have a character stranded in a desert setting, a love triangle involving the new guy and a married couple, and lots of money needing to change hands. Swerve, though, is also willing to go back a bit further, into other noir films, for inspiration. The triangle developed here has shades of Double Indemnity and Blood Simple. Also, whereas U-Turn was content to let its plot wander a bit in search of mood, Swerve opens with a blistering car crash and builds to a solid, thriller-like final act that keeps the momentum going.
Swerve thrives on throwing everything it can into the mix in the name of keeping viewers hooked. We've got a spectacular car crash, a love triangle involving rough sex, drug dealers looking for stolen money. The tension in the triangle mirrors the tension of those looking for the drug money, and together these forces trap Colin in a noose that we get to watch tighten.
Swerve (Blu-ray) is solid as well. The 2.35:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer showcases some impressive details, especially in the outdoor shots of the Outback. Motion can be a bit soft, but detail is close-ups is strong. Colors are warm and bright, really suiting the sun-baked feel of the locations. Darker scenes can get a bit noisy, but I suspect at least some of that is in the source. The DTS-HD 5.1 audio track is even more impressive. Dialogue is always clean and clear throughout, but it's the little touches that make this track shine. The car crash that opens the film is impressively rendered, with crunching clarity, and sonic details (like the marching band that keeps Colin from staying in a hotel) helps round out the sound field throughout the film.
The bulk of the extras consists of four short interviews with three cast members and the film's editors. These 1- to 4-minute pieces are a bit fluffy but find the participants discussing the film and its production. We also get the film's theatrical trailer.
There are two problems with Swerve. The first is that it doesn't really feel like its bringing anything new to the table. Though it's not quite generic or noir-by-numbers, it's also not trying to offer much in the way of novelty aside from its Australian setting. The other problem with the film is plausibility. Many, if not most, noirs thrive on setting up their situations like clockwork, trapping the protagonist in a web of intrigue. Thrillers, on the other hand, are more willing to do whatever it takes to ratchet up tension, even if it isn't particularly believable. Swerve, especially in its final act, is a lot more concerned with keeping momentum going than with making its ending believable.
Swerve is a down-under twist on the familiar noir themes of sex, violence, money, and misunderstanding. Though not a genre-defining experience, it offers solid performances, a compelling plot, and plenty of tension. The presentation on Swerve (Blu-ray) makes it easy to recommend for a rental to fans of noir-inspired thrillers.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
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