This is a slightly updated version of a review published on the Crikey website in 2003.
If you loved Two Hands and Dirty Deeds, you’ll love Gettin’ Square. Like them it’s one of those movies that celebrates the Australian love affair with the larrikin underclass – a tradition that goes all the way back to Ned Kelly, and look how many movies we’ve made about him!
‘Wattsy’ Wirth (Sam Worthington) has just been released from prison. He could have got out earlier, but he wouldn’t dob on nasty gangster Chicka Martin (Gary Sweet) who killed a man during the armed robbery which earned Wattsy the 5-year stretch. This adherence to the honour-among-thieves code marks him out straight away as the hero, as does the fact that unlike the other poor losers trying to talk their way past the implacable middle-class rectitude of the parole board, he doesn’t look or talk like a bogan.
The odds are against him: he’s an ex-con trying to find work, a Bad Cop’s got it in for him, his mum’s just died and he’s now in charge of an impressionable younger brother. What’s more, one of the few decent human beings he met in stir, the flawlessly drawn low-life Johnny ‘Spit’ Spiteri (David Wenham), has a knack of bringing him trouble.
He’s got some things going for him: a talent for cooking, a street-smart reformed crim-cum-tacky Gold Coast restaurant-owner who’s prepared to give him a break (the marvellous Brummie actor Timothy Spall) and his younger brother’s spunky parole officer Annie Flynn (Freya Stafford), who provides the love interest.
It was directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, who had previously directed David Wenham in Better Than Sex (2000) and went on to direct The Railway Man (2013) and Churchill (2017), both so tonally and stylistically different from those breezy early Aussie movies that you marvel they could have been made by the same person.
Fun fact about Gettin’ Square: It was written by Chris Nyst, who happened at the time to be Pauline Hanson’s solicitor.
It got more AFI nominations in 2003 than any other movie since Newsfront, including Best Screenplay for Nyst and Best Actor for David Wenham. Watch out for the courtroom scene where seemingly hapless, hopeless junkie Spit gives a masterclass in playing the system. A classic, now enjoying wide circulation on the Net as an independent meme.
More reasons to seek it out: You get to see Ugly Dave Grey and ‘Aussie Joe’ Bugner in amusing cameos, and listen to the attitude-laden soundtrack by now defunct Sydney alt-rockers Machine Gun Fellatio. Cool.