Sunday, August 14, 2011

Movie Monday #12 -- Risk

“Let me put this in words you can understand--fuck off!”

Bryan Brown as Kreisky, Risk

I am a huge fan of Australian film. The entire industry seems to have crumbled over there lately, which is a huge disappointment, but when I saw Risk peeking out from behind another DVD in the bargain rack at my local grocery store and spotted Bryan Brown’s picture on the front, I figured I’d at least give it a look. When I discovered that it was an Australian film, I bought it without another thought, and that was an easy thing to do because of its low $3.99 price.

Risk starts off slow, centering on the first day of Ben Madigan’s new job as an insurance adjuster. He thinks he’ll be helping people by granting them money they deserve. What he learns is that the insurance company is only out to protect its money and its own interests; the rookies are taught to pay out the minimum amount of money and use any excuse they can to knock the total down as far as it will go.

Ben is really too innocent for this kind of job, but he does have a knack for convincing people that taking the insurance money is the right thing to do--a skill he learns when senior adjuster John Kreisky takes him under his wing in a little “experiment.” Kreisky proposes that Ben will close disputed claims at an eighty percent payout, thereby leaving the company twenty percent and still making them money.

Ben eventually learns that he’s very good at this, but that Kreisky has covered his tracks with this experiment by initiating a scam to rip off the insurance company. While Ben proposes that he isn’t “doing anything wrong,” Kreisky and his lover Louise work out a deal that involves fake insurance claims posing as real ones, and all three of them get paid nicely for it.

Unfortunately, Ben starts to catch wind of an internal investigation in the company about someone absconding with company funds. When the Australian police come in and launch a full-scale investigation, Ben realizes that it’s high time he developed an exit strategy--and what a doozy it is.

Risk showcases the talents of its three main actors to the hilt. Tom Long is perfectly cast as Ben, the innocent adjuster who gets in over his head in this scam and can’t find a way out. Bryan Brown is the perfect manipulator as Kreisky, always steering Ben back on the path he wants Ben to travel on, not the path that Ben knows he should be on. Claudia Karvan is beautiful, sassy, serious, and downright one of the sexiest Australian actresses put to film as Louise, the woman who is seeing both Ben and Kreisky and is headed to Heartbreak City by the end of the film.

The production design by Murray Picknett was the standout element in this film. Everyone is dressed in warm, dark colors, and so are their surroundings. Even the cars are in coordinating colors, so they don’t clash with the amazing wardrobe by Margot Wilson. I have never been very impressed with the “stylized reality” that some films go for, but Risk pulls this off flawlessly and with seemingly no effort.

The music by Don Miller-Robinson reflected the source music used in the film, something that is becoming rare these days. The musical score included a synthesized Hammond organ, which is a sound I just love from the days of 3 Dog Night, and it worked great in this film to compliment the on-screen events and the other songs used to emphasize various key points.

The lighting by Simon Duggan was not fancy or heavily stylized--it was efficient and to the point, illuminating when it had to, and leaving things dark and mysterious when they needed to be. When you’re trying to accomplish “stylized reality,” sometimes the lighting can be too stylized or too real, but Simon got the balance just right for Risk. Hats off to you, mate.

The script by John Armstrong was tight, poignant, and nerve-racking at the tension-grinding moments. There was a strange lack of humor in this film, with the exception of two or three deliberate jokes, which come off as a little out-of-place but nevertheless funny. Other than that little quibble, I have very few complaints about the writing of the film--it was totally spot-on.

The direction by Alan White (a name I’ve heard before from somewhere) was terrific, never calling for any “independent movie-maker shake” shots (i.e. Paul Greengrass’s hand-held gunfight mayhem in the Bourne films). The shots were steady, the camera moved only to emphasize or stylishly capture a certain tense moment, and never lost its sense of pace. This guy knew what he was doing, and it shows.

Overall, Risk is a terrific thriller that ends on a chilling note (I won’t spoil it for you, though). If you’re up for a film that will entertain as well as make you think about the insurance industry in general, then you’re ready to take in the Australian gem Risk.

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