StarsStarsStarsStarsStars

Bring Him to Me review: an atmospheric, propulsive film

Luke Sparke's crime movie features a rock solid lead performance and a collection of memorable supporting roles.

Genres go in and out of favour at the cinema, and right now crime movies – especially down the smaller, grittier end of the scale – rarely get a showing on the big screen.

That’s one reason right there to check out Bring Him to Me, which debuts in cinemas this week. Another is that it’s a major change of pace for Australian director Luke Sparke, previously known for CGI-heavy attempts to beat Hollywood blockbusters at their own game, like Occupation: Rainfall (2020). Add in a strong local cast – both Sam Neill and Rachel Griffiths appear in meaty supporting roles – and what are you waiting for?

Oh right, the story.

Our mysterious lead (Barry Pepper) is the kind of crime driver we’ve met before: he’s a professional, he likes to keep things businesslike, and he plays his cards very close to his chest. Not long ago, he was the man behind the wheel during a heist that didn’t quite go wrong, but didn’t go as right as it should have. Now his boss wants him to bring the new man on that job (Jamie Costa) to the kind of location you don’t usually leave alive.

The driver isn’t entirely happy about this. He was there; he knows what the new guy is like, and he doesn’t think he’s the one responsible for the missing money that has his boss so upset. On the other hand, the new guy is overly chatty, annoyingly positive, totally unaware of the fate that awaits him, and not exactly professional. Showing up with his young daughter and asking to drop her off at home first puts them behind schedule, and that’s another black mark against his name.

Two men, one car is a fairly common low budget set-up; Nicolas Cage and Joel Kinnaman recently made it work in Sympathy for the Devil earlier this year. Bring Him to Me breaks up the driving scenes repeatedly, first with flashbacks to the heist, then with the reveal that those they stole from – including a seriously sinister rival crime figure (Sam Neill) – aren’t willing to let it go, and finally a lengthy pay off once the duo eventually arrive at their destination. So it’s not just 90 minutes worth of front-seat chat.

Tricky balance

The two leads have a tricky balancing act to pull off. Pepper is playing a man of few words; Costa won’t shut up. We’re naturally inclined to side with Pepper’s character, and Costa’s character is intentionally meant to come across as annoying.

But the story is built around Pepper’s increasing reluctance to deliver his chatty passenger to his doom; while the film does manage to pull Costa’s character back from the brink (and Costa’s performance makes him more likeable than he might have been), it’s debatable whether it does enough to fully pull off the required change of heart.

Whatever your feelings towards his passenger, it’s the driver’s movie. Pepper gives a strong performance as the stoic professional who’s put to the test, carrying the film easily. Both Neill and Griffiths are used well here, giving them plenty to chew on in roles that run longer than the usual ‘brief cameo for marketing purposes’ you might expect. And Sparke shows real chops on a much smaller scale than his previous effort, keeping the long drive interesting and making the action sequences pop.

No spoilers, but one thing this film does have in common with Occupation: Rainfall is a conclusion that’s somewhat less than 100% definite.

There’s no need for a sequel – the events of the film are wrapped up – but it ends on a note that leaves the door wide open for a continuation of sorts. Whether this is just a quirk or something that’ll become a trademark of Sparke’s remains to be seen. Either way, here it doesn’t detract from a story that’s otherwise pretty much complete.

Much of the pleasure with this kind of noir is seeing how well the film makers work within limitations. There are a few twists, but no big surprises: what you see turns out to be what you get. Sparke creates an atmospheric, propulsive film built around a rock solid lead performance and a collection of memorable supporting roles.

It’s a small crime story worth the big screen treatment.

Bring Him to Me is in cinemas on Thursday.

Anthony Morris is a freelance film and television writer. He’s been a regular contributor to The Big Issue, Empire Magazine, Junkee, Broadsheet, The Wheeler Centre and Forte Magazine, where he’s currently the film editor. Other publications he’s contributed to include Vice, The Vine, Kill Your Darlings (where he was their online film columnist), The Lifted Brow, Urban Walkabout and Spook Magazine. He’s the co-author of hit romantic comedy novel The Hot Guy, and he’s also written some short stories he’d rather you didn’t mention. You can follow him on Twitter @morrbeat and read some of his reviews on the blog It’s Better in the Dark.