Hook turns on weighty subtext

The Tender Hook: 104 minutes. Rated: PG. Director: Jonathan Ogilvie. Starring: Hugo Weaving, Rose Byrne, Matthew Le Nevez, Luke Carrol

Rose Byrne and Hugo Weaving in The Tender Hook, screen cap cropped 300 by 300Tonto and the Lone Ranger are riding across the prairie when they find themselves surrounded by hostile Apache. The Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and says, 'We're done for.' Tonto cocks an eyebrow and replies, 'What do you mean "we", kemosabe?'

We've all heard the joke before. But spoken by a character during the final act of Aussie thriller The Tender Hook, it assumes portentous overtones. It reflects a key question for the film's characters: Where do your loyalties lie when the chips are down? Various factors apply pressure to their loyalties, and first among these is self-preservation.

The scene is 1920s Sydney — jazzy nightclubs, seedy docksides and grimy, awesome boxing arenas. Presiding over the events is McHeath (Weaving), an English rogue with his fingers in a number of illicit pies. He's accumulated a small criminal empire via gambling and bootlegging rackets, and is not averse to using violence to keep it intact.

Needless to say, McHeath is not loved. When one character speculates that McHeath is 'illiterate', his dim companion retorts: 'He might be a bastard; he sure acts like one.'

McHeath's young lover Iris (Byrne) enjoys the glamour of life by his side, and seems infatuated by the danger of associating with this volatile individual. During the opening credits sequence McHeath croons (anachronistically) a jazz version of 'I'm Your Man', and Iris seems to thrill to the duplicity of Leonard Cohen's deceptively sweet lyric.

But the relationship is an essentially oppressive one. So when Iris falls for big-hearted pugilist Art (Le Nevez) her sights are on emancipation as much as love or rugged thrills. Of course McHeath is not going to let her go easily. The love triangle is stretched to dangerous limits as she schemes to siphon funds from his fortune with a view to fleeing to America.

The characters can be read as a microcosm of Australia as the fledgling federation approaches the end of its adolescence. Iris, the cultural heiress, and Art, the archetypal battler, are the precocious young Aussies, fighting to leave behind the dominant and dominating colonial Brit, McHeath.

Already they have their eyes on America, destined to become the next dominator of Australian culture.

More poignant, but subtler, is the place in this microcosm of the film's sole Aboriginal character, Art's fellow (and superior) boxer Alby (Caroll). Revered for his pugilistic prowess, he's ultimately subservient to the purposes of the white characters, and is subjugated for the betterment of even the heroic characters.

Such weighty subtext helps to invigorate a film which, while stylish and slickly structured, rarely surprises. Loyalties may be tested, but the story and characters are sufficiently familiar for most viewers to guess exactly what the results will be.

The Tender Hook on At The Movies

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. His articles and reviews have been published by The Age, Inside Film, the Brisbane Courier Mail and The Big Issue. Email Tim


Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Tender Hook, Jonathan Ogilvie, starring Hugo Weaving, Rose Byrne, Matthew Le Nevez



submit a comment

Similar Articles

In praise of Cricketmas

  • Tom Clark
  • 23 September 2008

Peter Taylor, selected straight from .. Petersham firsts to bowl his offies .. for the baggy green, taught us how .. the 'Strayan dream can fizz and spit .. through Sydney's fond atmosphere.


Woomf! Plunggg! Protons collide with doomsday fanaticism

  • Brian Matthews
  • 17 September 2008

The rumoured potential of the Large Hadron Collider to bring about the disintegration of the universe captured the public imagination. 'Hadron' is a word susceptible to misprinting of a kind that destroys the seriousness of any discussion.



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up