Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Craig Lahiff's Swerve opens with an aerial view of the point where three dusty roads in the South Australian outback merge into one – and the car that we see racing down one of them and swerving at the intersection will soon be the vehicle for one of three twisty narratives all set to collide.

Within minutes, the Chinese driver will be dead, having exchanged a briefcase full of hundred dollar bills for another bag loaded with fake drugs and treacherous explosive. The man in the cowboy hat who took receipt of the money will also soon die – for he is about to run head-on into Jina (Emma Booth), who is racing to escape her life in nearby Neverest, and as both swerve off the road to avoid a crash, he will fatally flip his car.

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Colin (David Lyons), a third party just passing through on his way for a job interview, will give the shaken Jina a lift back to town and hand the briefcase over to the local police sergeant Frank (Jason Clarke). Yet for all his honesty and determination to do the right thing, Colin will find himself embroiled in a heated psychodrama between Jina and Frank, even as a ruthless stranger (Travis McMahon) breezes into town in search of the missing money.

The smalltown drifter, the femme fatale, the vengeful husband, the implacable hunter, the moral temptations, the buried secrets, the suitcase full of stolen cash – the ingredients that make up Swerve yield a concoction made familiar by countless other neo-noir thrillers, from The Hot Spot (1990) to U Turn (1997) and from Shallow Grave (1994) to No Country For Old Men (2007). The particulars of Lahiff's plot are even similar enough to his own earlier Fever (1988) to qualify Swerve as a remake.

Yet playing by a game's well-established rules need not preclude the odd curveball and, as is perhaps implied by the film's title, what matters here is less the derivative nature of the narrative's trajectory than the way in which it keeps veering off track. For despite Colin's genuine goodness, his sojourn in Neverest will involve all manner of detours, digressions and backroads that reveal a sleepy-seeming community in fact ruled by lust, greed and venal cynicism, where the innocent and righteous are all too easily crushed. Neverest may be illuminated by harsh desert sunlight, but Swerve offers a dark vision of humanity prepared to sacrifice everything of real value in pursuit of a mirage. That said, despite a solid cast and good use of location, we really have been here many times before, regardless of how many twists Lahiff compounds to get us there.

Near the end of Swerve, Colin paints three possible scenarios to explain something that has happened (the film itself remaining inconclusive as to which is correct); and Jina lists "health, money and love" as "the three things in life that make you happy" (although she happily settles for two).

The number three, it seems, is a recurrent motif in this film of three interweaving narrative strands. Which brings us back to that opening image of three roads meeting at a single point. The Romans called such crossroads 'trivia', with the public, vulgar nature of these places giving rise to the adjective 'trivial' in its now familiar metaphorical sense. This is the problem with Swerve: it may be a bumpy enough ride while it lasts, but it never feels important enough to escape its trivial status, or different enough from other genre flicks to grab the attention.

Reviewed on: 11 Sep 2012
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Thriller, sees the paths of a drug dealer, a dissatisfied wife, a straight up ex-soldier and a psychotic cop collide.

Director: Craig Lahiff

Writer: Craig Lahiff

Starring: David Lyons, Emma Booth, Jason Clarke, Travis McMahon, Vince Colosimo, Robert Mammone, Chris Haywood, Greg Stone

Year: 2011

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: Australia


Australia 2012

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If you like this, try:

No Country For Old Men
U Turn