Great Aussie crime thriller droops at the end but pulls through thanks to Guy Pearce.
Guy Pierce plays the tormented, ex-con lead of Pauline Chan’s “33 Postcards.” The star who made a sterling name for himself in “The King’s Speech” summons the dark forces that made his performances in “L.A. Confidential” and “Memento” his most memorable.
Like his portrayal of the troubled Ed Exley in “L.A. Confidential,” Pierce is at his best as an all-to-sensitive man in the midst of a corrupt and brutal world.
In this nearly perfect neo-noir; the lead falls for a woman who may well be the death of him. In this film the woman is sixteen year old orphan Mei Mei (Zhu Lin) who has entered into a long distance pen-pal relationship with Dean Randall, her sponsor at her orphanage.
Mei Mei is a symbol of hope and redemption for the emotionally paralyzed Randall. The question is whether or not he will be able to rise to call to rejoin the human race after years of barbaric humiliation in prison.
Dean Randal and his brother Gary have entered into a devil’s bargain with chop shop gangster Fletch (Terry Serio). Writer/director Pauline Chan’s screenplay (co-written by Philip Dalkin and Martin Edmond) cleverly straddles the line between freedom and captivity by setting the film half in prison and half on the outside.
However, the lines are blurred because Dean Randall’s emotional connection with Mei Mei in prison has made him a freer man than most of his compatriots and his brother’s ongoing involvement with Fletch has made him more of a prisoner in the cut-throat world of organized crime on the outside.
This film opens a powerful window into the borderless reach of the terror of organized crime. Fletch operates freely inside the prison through his enforcer Tommy (in a great performance by Matthew Nable), who is never short of the nastiest home-made knives that can be imagined. Tommy is a businessman, as is Fletch.
Pay your bills on time and you keep your body parts. Miss a payment and miss something you wish you had. The whole machine rolls along quite nicely until Mei Mei shows up in the city.
The crisis occurs as a result of every Asian schoolgirl’s dream. Mei Mei’s choir from the orphanage is invited to a special performance in Sydney, Dean’s home and the location of his current prison. Over many years of sponsorship, Dean has lied to Mei Mei about his wasted life and his humiliating circumstances by substituting the life of a park ranger for that of an inner city car thief jail bird.
He describes his memories of the wondrous Australian flora and fauna as if it were his day to day home, substituting the birds, fish and animals for the thugs and street scum who are his constant companions. He longs to show these miracles of nature to Mei Mei, when, at the same time, he longs to join with them himself, even though that life is as far away from him as a ranch house on Mars.
Mei Mei comes to Sydney, breaks all the rules and eventually meets with Dean in prison, as Dean and his brother are entering in to a new phase of enslavement to the crime establishment and Tommy is itching to use his new knife, a combination Marine survival knife and Taliban scimitar, on the wayward Dean.
Mei Mei, still amazingly oblivious to the fact that she is being drawn into the midst of a murderous band of grand larcenists, finds herself part and parcel of the next big job and vulnerable to corruption on all levels.
The screenplay does not hold up the tension in the end, as well as it could. There is a commendable closure for all concerned, but the film missed the chance for a power packed ending that would done better justice to the fine, tense and gut wrenching performances for the first 80% of the film.
The film style is very much in line with the super gritty and realistic movies “Animal Kingdom” and “The Proposition” where family and friends vie for space with organized crime within the fractured emotional world of the good man gone terribly wrong. The ending misses the chance to deal, specifically, with the bad guys and instead substitutes a frothy and lightweight vision of Mei Mei’s choir rising above it all.
This is still a good film, but the focus should have stayed on the violent machismo that makes up the international world of violent crime, a subject that has been dealt with so superbly by Australian noir cinema.
Powerful performances throughout and fine production and editing make this a film to see, especially for you Aussie-noir buffs out there. Yeoman like work by TV star Claudia Karvan as Barbara the social worker and a good performance by emerging actress Zhu Lin, considering this is only her second film credit and she shoulders much of the heavy lifting for the movie.
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Directed by: Pauline Chan
Written by: Pauline Chan, Philip Dalkin and Martin Edmond
Starring: Guy Pearce, Zhu Lin and Claudia Karvan
Release Date: May 17, 2013
MPAA: Not Rated
Run Time: 97 Minutes
Country: Australia / China
Language: English / Mandarin