Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Forgotten Movies - Bruce Beresford's MONEY MOVERS (1979)

The big thing in the cult movie universe these days is Ozploitation, or Australian exploitation films of the 70s and 80s, as highlighted by Mark Hartley's excellent documentary NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, due to open in March from Magnolia Pictures. It's nice to see these forgotten pics get their due here in the U.S., and hopefully it will open the gates for several of these films to get a release over here, since the Aussie cinematic golden age gave us a hell of a lot of good films that either never made it here or have fallen out of license. (My pals at Synapse Films have already gotten the ball rolling with such films as PATRICK and STRANGE BEHAVIOR, with the excellent giant croc epic DARK AGE due for release some time in '09.) While many of these films have been released on DVD in their homeland, there's zero market for them, import-wise, and there's unquestionably some hidden gems out there. Having dug into some of these imports recently, one of the first that I've discovered is Bruce Beresford's MONEY MOVERS, a heist flick from '79 that shows that Aussie crime cinema of the 70s was as solid as it was in the states and that the conventions of film noir transplanted just as well to Australia as they did to France in the 50s and 60s.

A film titled MONEY MOVERS could only be a heist movie (or an expose on the life of accountants), though in this case it has a literal meaning, too, since the heist concerns a Sydeny-based payroll company. Based on a book by a former security officer (and inspired by two 1970 robberies), MONEY MOVERS wisely begins by dictating the inner workings of the company itself for its first 15 minutes so that we get a good idea of not just how difficult it would be for someone to knock it over, but also what exactly is at stake. Since this is a security company and not a bank, everyone has guns, everyone has an attitude and, most important of all, most everyone has a reason to knock the place over. It's an inside job all the way, planned by Terrance Donovan, his brother Bryan Brown and another employee, three guys who've been with the company long enough to be trusted and long enough to be enticed by all that money. Their motives are practically secondary; they're determined to do the job they've been planning for 5 years and now there's a fire lit under them to finally get it done. These things don't always go as planned, of course, and there are numerous complications - unwanted third parties muscling in on the job, suspicious co-workers, fall guys who don't fall so easily - and much of what makes MONEY MOVERS so compelling is the matter-of-fact storytelling technique that Beresford employs, while at the same time never losing sight of the genre he's in or pretending that he - or the film - are above it. The fact that MONEY MOVERS feels very much like many of the other quality Aussie films of its era - while at the same time a heist movie - is what makes it feel fresh to me. This is one of the few attempts to make a modern day noir that works on its own terms, especially without feeling like a rip-off or (even worse) a homage. Yes, it could have been made by Fox in the Forties with Tyrone Power or Dana Andrews, or by Melville with Lino Ventura in the early 60s, but with all the bright Aussie locations and Down Under attitudes, MONEY MOVERS is very much its own movie.

That said, it's also very much Bruce Beresford's movie, and it serves as a reminder that this guy used to be a really good director some time ago. Well before he turned Hollywood, Beresford's Aussie films (and the fine TENDER MERCIES, his U.S. debut) had this natural quality to them that helped to define the Aussie cinema of the 70s that felt lived-in and felt organically Australian (the BARRY McKENZIE films excepted, of course). Many of these pictures were quiet, character-based stories about simple people whose problems Beresford was able to make seem enormously important and became intriguing because of that. MONEY MOVERS takes the same approach and it not only proves to be completely the right but also makes it unique for this genre; Making the characters all working class Aussies make them feel more human, easier to relate to and empathetic (for as much as thieves can be), and the lack of a score helps to add to the natural feeling and brings up the tension. At the same time, I'm also impressed by MONEY MOVERS as a thriller and in how respectful it is of the heist film genre. All of the usual trappings are there, but the feeling is fresh and unique.

Apparently, MONEY MOVERS was not a hit in Aussie cinemas back in '79 and its sole U.S. release was on VHS back in the early 80s, so it's ripe for a rediscovery and a re-evaluation. I'm gonna call Don over at Synapse and see what we can do.

1 comment:

Paul said...

This movie was on one of the smaller UK cable channels the other night, and it was the first time I'd seen it since the early 80s, when BBC2 ran a season of new Aussie cinema on the back of Bruce Beresford's success at the Oscars with Breaker Morant. Your analysis absolutely nails it, and the film itself has held up incredibly well. There used to be a lot of Aussie shows on British TV during the 60s and 70s, so quite a few of the cast members would have been familiar faces to a UK audience of the time. I'm a little surprised to read that it wasn't a success upon release, and although a few of Beresford's early movies, like Puberty Blues and The Getting of Wisdom, received a limited UK release, I don't ever remember The Money Movers getting any exposure. Still, I have no doubt that it'd find an enthusiastic audience now.

Another early Beresford movie you might want to investigate is The Club, from 1980, which tells the story of an Aussie Rules football club over the course of a season. It stars the great Jack Thompson, and it's funny as all hell. Even if the finer points of Aussie Rules are a mystery to you (as they are to most Brits), you're sure to recognise plenty of themes that are common to any number of sports movies. It doesn't tick quite so many of the 'cult movie' boxes as The Money Movers, but if you subscribe to the belief that Bruce Beresford's best work was done before he went to Hollywood, you'll probably enjoy The Club as well.