Coming from Australia and director Gregor Jordan, Two Hands is a typical crime thriller set against an atypical backdrop and with an offbeat sense of humor. It sets everything in motion right away, contains more than a couple of surprises, and is entertaining from start to finish. Is it derivative? Absolutely. But its sense of style and quirk keeps it from feeling stale. If you like Pulp Fiction or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, you’re going to have a lot of fun with Two Hands.
The film begins with its lead, Jimmy (Heath Ledger), working out front of a strip club attempting to court lads young and old into spending their nights inside. Not exactly a glamorous job, but it pays the bills. He’s approached by the local mob boss, Pando (Bryan Brown), who offers him a job. The next day, he’s to deliver $10,000 to a woman and will be given $500 as a payment, along with the promise of future work. This seems easy, but upon reaching the apartment of this woman, nobody answers the door. We see her dying, presumably due to her chain-smoking habit. You have to love dramatic irony.
Assuming that she has just stepped out for a bit, Jimmy heads to the beach for a swim. Two kids, whom we’d earlier seen stealing from other people, find the $10,000 in Jimmy’s pants while he’s in the water. Now, Jimmy has lost the money and soon enough Pando knows this. You don’t mess with mob bosses, even ones like Pando who spend their spare time playing chess and Scrabble. Jimmy’s got to either skip town or find a way to get back $10,000, all while avoiding Pando and his crew on fear of death.
Along the way, he’s going to attempt to pull off a bank heist and also fall in love with his friend’s cousin, Alex (Rose Byrne). Admittedly, if there’s a weak part to Two Hands, it’s the underdeveloped love story. Granted, you can’t really spend a lot of time with someone when a mob family is trying to hunt you down to put a bullet in your brain, but the film didn’t really require a love story in the first place. Cutting it might have been a good decision.
There are a bunch of moments in Two Hands that you will not see coming. It’s rare that a film — especially one with a familiar overall story — can generate genuine gasps, but this is one of them. Sometimes the surprises come in the form of comedy, while at other points you’re left in shock. And even those shocking moments are likely to make you laugh after a while, simply because you’ll be saying “I can’t believe they did that.” I mouthed that after one specific moment, which I won’t spoil but anyone who sees the movie will know what it is.
Surprisingly, this isn’t a film that’s difficult to follow. It has a good number of characters who come and go — the only constants are the three I’ve already mentioned; there are a bunch more that don’t warrant a mention in a review, but play important smaller roles — and an ever-moving plot. There are times when movies like this one almost require too much of your focus, or contain too much content to absorb with one viewing. Two Hands balances complexity and watchability well.
There are also a great deal of comedic moments. If you like your comedy dark, this is a movie for you. The irony, quirks, oddball characters, and terrible luck all make for an incredibly funny movie. I laughed more during Two Hands than many “comedies” that get released. The funniest movies are often the ones that aim to do other things beside make an audience laugh. You’re not really supposed to take this movie seriously, either, even though its situation does sometimes get grave.
I mean, you’ve got this ruthless gangster, fantastically played by Bryan Brown, who also likes to play board games with his henchmen. All of the characters seem to either have or interact well with young children. We see Brown’s character at one point doing origami with his son. It’s all done whimsically, too. A gun goes off in a home, the father takes the gun and tells his son “knock it off; I have a headache.” For me, at least, this is really funny.
The actors are also well-suited to their roles. As the lead, Heath Ledger plays Jimmy as someone without a direction in life who is finally given one: survival. Bryan Brown’s villain steals the show and thanks to his performance winds up making the film even more memorable than it likely would have been. As the love interest, Rose Byrne is fine but underutilized. Either make her character a more integral part to the story — perhaps have her act as Jimmy’s salvation — or excise her. The romance doesn’t work.
Two Hands is a slick, efficient “job gone wrong” movie that contains more than a couple of genuine surprises. It has good actors who turn in decent performances, a short enough running time so that its proceedings never start to get dull, and a slightly offbeat sense which lends itself to a few great scenes of comedy. All in all, it’s a success. I can’t think of many reasons not to watch it, and it entertained me thoroughly from start to finish. If you’re a fan of offbeat crime films like Pulp Fiction or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, you’ll like this one.