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BIG STEAL, THE (COLLECTOR'S EDITION): DVD

SYNOPSIS:
Danny Clark (Ben Mendelsohn) is a sweet-natured, working-class teenager with an obsession for Jaguar cars and the hots for fellow student Joanna Johnson (Claudia Karvan). He thinks he can win her heart by impressing her with a nifty set of wheels but the faithful old Nissan Cedric Danny’s dad proudly presents him with on his birthday isn’t what he had in mind. He trades up to a sparkling, second hand Jaguar, unloaded by dodgy dealer Gordon Farkas (Steve Bisley), but when Danny takes delivery of the car, he discovers that what’s under the bonnet is more clunk than spunk. The sleazy Farkas has ruined Danny’s dream, but Danny’s revenge will be Farkas’ nightmare.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
Danny looks down on the beloved 1964 Nissan Cedric that his dad Desmond presents to him on his18th birthday. His buddies Van (Angelo D’Angelo) and Mark (Damon Herriman) say that they “wouldn’t be caught dead in it” and joke that it is probably named after an airline steward! Embarrassed by their scorn and lack of grunt in the old car, he seeks to trade it on his dream wheels, a sparkling second hand Jag he finds at a suspiciously tacky caryard. Sure enough, he is like a “Daniel in the lion’s den” when he meets Gordon Farkas, a dodgy dealer, in white socks, tapered suit and teased hair.

After clinching the deal in a scam cooked up with a colleague (Frankie J. Holden) to make Danny think that other buyers are beating down their door, the super sleaze salesman switches engines and Danny winds up with a dud. His first date with Joanna is a disaster when the couple are bailed-up by hoons at a set of traffic lights and in the subsequent drag race, the Jag blows up and so does Joanna who is simply “not into cars.” It is then Danny must reveal his betrayal of Cedric to his gently eccentric parents (Marshall Napier and Maggie King). Dad Desmond is especially shattered by the news that “Cedric is gone.” With his shoulders slumped, he retires to the neat little back yard jamming onto the railway tracks and emits a prolonged “primal yell” that seems out of character for the Tai-Chi practising father.

This is one of only a few discordant notes in what is otherwise a delightfully quirky romantic comedy, which was nominated for nine AFI awards and won Best Supporting Actor for Bisley, Best Original Screenplay for Parker and Max Dann and Best Original Score for Phil Judd. Nominated for Best Actor in his first lead role, Mendelsohn displays a wonderfully mature sense of timing in a performance that is expertly balanced between befuddled innocence and imminent awareness. If Mendelsohn was one of the most charismatic of Australian leading men at the time, Steve Bisley was the most underrated. Bisley’s smug, mug-lair larrikinism begs for the vengeance that most gratifyingly visits him. He very nearly big steals the show…it’s just a pity he allowed the character to lapse into caricature in an incident of his own invention when he is caught with his knickers down (and fishnet stockings up!) by a police patrol car. That scene and the rather lackadaisical and uninspired car chase that comes near the end of the film, upsets the whole jaunty and jocular tone. Napier and King do splendid work as Danny’s pommie parents and Tim Robertson as Desmond Johnson, Joanna’s fiercely protective dad, has some priceless moments as another nasty-pastie in the piece. When Danny arrives at the door to take Joanna on their first date, Johnson stands eyeball to eyeball with the quivering young beau and warns belligerently: “If you lay a finger on her, I’ll punch the living daylights out of ya!” The third feature from Tass-Parker, the team that made Malcolm an international success, takes a swipe not only at the shonky car-dealers that survive and prosper to this day, but the bully-boys who are represented by Farkas (a coward) and Johnson a plumber, all puffed-up with self-importance because he has made a modest success of his life.

The generous Special Features bundle includes unedited SBS Movie Show interviews with Mendelsohn, Karvan and Bisley from 1990 that seem redundant now, given that they are back to back with “refresher” interviews only filmed this year. Mendelsohn’s 2003 interview is repetitive and demands serious editing, but the Tass-Parker commentary on this small budget gem is enlightening and worthwhile.

Published November 27, 2003

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YOU CAN BUY IT HERE

THE BIG STEAL (COLLECTOR'S EDITION): DVD (PG)
(Australia, 1990)

CAST: Ben Mendelsohn, Claudia Karvan, Steve Bisley

DIRECTOR: Nadia Tass

SCRIPT: David Parker

RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

PRESENTATION: Anamorphic Widescreen 16:9. Dolby digital. English 2.0

SPECIAL FEATURES: Filmmakers Featurette: Nadia Tass and David Parker interview and commentary. Cast interviews: Mendelsohn, Karvan and Bisley (1990 and 2003). Original cast Audition tapes Karvan, Angelo D’Angelo and Damon Herriman. Original trailer.

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: AV Channel

DVD RELEASE: October 15, 2003







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