Talk about a misleading title — “Swerve” offers little else besides the straight and narrow, following genre rules so closely that the film seems less scripted than listed, with each plot point checked off as it goes by.
Let’s see, you’ve got your duplicitous blonde, a briefcase full of money, the hapless patsy, the angry cop, the loose cannon and the speeding train. Everything’s in order here; so much so, in fact, that you could doze off during this Australian neo-noir and catch up with the plot within seconds of reawakening.
If there’s a reason to see this crime thriller, it’s for another captivatingly anti-heroic performance from Jason Clarke, who’s become a much bigger deal stateside thanks to “Zero Dark Thirty” and “The Great Gatsby,” two films he shot after making this 2011 title. Without Clarke’s ferocious performance (and his recent marquee value), however, it’s hard to imagine this movie making it out of straight-to-DVD purgatory.
After cheating a drug courier out of a satchel of cash, a lowlife meets his demise on a deserted stretch of Australian highway after crashing into Jina (Emma Booth). Witnessing all this is traveler Colin (David Lyons, “Safe Haven,” TV’s “Revolution”), who tries to do the right thing, giving Jina a ride home and turning the money in at the next town, where Frank (Clarke) is the local law.
Stuck in town with no place to stay — there’s a marching-band convention, a potentially fun idea that writer-director Craig Lahiff (“Heaven’s Burning”) never pursues — Colin takes up Frank’s offer to crash at his place, only to discover that Jina is Frank’s wife, and that she was in the process of fleeing the marriage when the accident occurred.
No sooner is Jina making eyes at Colin than mob clean-up man Charlie (Travis McMahon) comes to town looking for the stolen money, leaving a trail of corpses in his wake. Soon, dead bodies are being hidden and reclaimed, and confidences are being betrayed, and before you know it, there’s a really fast train that you just know somebody is going to get pushed off of well before it reaches the station.
One has to admire Lahiff’s steadfast love of the film noir genre, even if his refusal to tweak it in the slightest strips the surprise from “Swerve.” Still, the director is at least skilled at portraying the claustrophobic stillness of this tiny Outback town, and his cast magically behaves as though they were portraying characters and situations we’ve never seen before.
But we have. Boy, have we.