A version of this review appeared in The Age, June 7, 2012.
The writer-director Craig Lahiff has been around the Australian film industry for yonks, but has dropped out of sight since Black and White (2000), a period drama with some worthy racial themes. Entertainment is the sole aim of this competent little thriller, which takes off from a familiar premise: the unlucky traveller who finds himself stranded somewhere off the map.
Here, the fall guy is Colin (Jason Clarke) an Iraq veteran headed for a job interview in Broken Hill. On an empty outback road, he witnesses a fatal car accident, stumbles upon a suitcase of cash, and crosses paths with an alluring woman of mystery (Emma Booth) who speeds off in a convertible. More honest than most noir heroes, Colin hands in the suitcase at the nearest police station; though behind in his schedule, he agrees to stay overnight at the home of a friendly local cop (Jason Clarke) whose wife proves to be the same woman he saw at the crash.
In its first half, Swerve does a lot of things right. The brisk storytelling has a cartoonish verve recalling the early work of the Coen brothers: a sinister blond villain (Travis McMahon) keeps looming into the foreground of otherwise empty frames, and the fact that the town happens to be hosting a marching band competition serves as an inspired audiovisual running joke. But as the climax approaches, suspense drains away: the plot feels needlessly convoluted, and even by genre standards some of the twists defy belief.