Urban Cinefile Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Clearly aware of the impact of visual style on the narrative, Jonathan Ogilvie uses a stylised 1920 Australian setting for a love triangle that involves all the basic drivers of human frailty, from jealousy to greed, from ambition to pride. Hugo Weaving strikes a balance between a human version of his Mr Smith from The Matrix and the enigmatic Eddie character in Craig Monahan's The Interview. He is proud and becomes jealous and violent.
Rose 'by any other name' Byrne is slinky as Iris, slithering between honour and betrayal, and Matt Le Nevez is ambitious but weak as the boxer. Excellent support from Pia Miranda as na´ve young Daisy, and from the rest of the cast, in what is a strong story, if a fraction underdeveloped.
It's a melodramatic mix, beautifully shot by Geoffrey Simpson, the film has a haunting, almost surreal quality. Ken Sallows has cut the film into a dense work, but with enough space to make its many emotional sighs and Pete Baxter's production design marries all the elements strikingly.
Review by Louise Keller:
The elements are beguiling. There's Hugo Weaving crooning Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen tunes before revealing himself to be a nasty thug. There's Rose Byrne looking devastatingly beautiful as she shows her vulnerable side. And Matthew Le Nevez displays his appeal as the boxer who gets sucked into dirty business and the relationship triangle. This is a story that sizzles with its themes of corruption, infidelity, racism and power. Its 20s setting offers ample opportunities for wonderful production design (by Pete Baxter), gorgeously shot by cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson. Jonathan Ogilvie's direction too, works well. But there's a vital flaw. Ogilvie's script confuses us and in the process alienates us from the characters and the action.
The exquisite look of the film is perhaps its strongest point, with its misty blues and dark shadows. Ogilvie has captured a specific moment in time in early 20s Sydney when the two arches of the Harbour Bridge under construction had not yet joined and the cost of petrol was eight pence a gallon. There's also a rather fabulous long string of gleaming pearls that Weaving's McHeath gives Byrne's Iris and that sets off the period costumes. McHeath's way of life involves heavy handed tactics and from the beginning we know he carelessly and brutally uses people as a commodity. Weaving is always a pleasure to watch - his every expression meaningful and Byrne, a stark and lovely contrast, whose face Ogilvie shoots as if it were a painting. All the cast is excellent, including Pia Miranda whose Daisy adds naivety to the gun-toting underworld figures.
For a film with so much going for it, however, I felt disappointed. With the potential to be a ripper of a crime melodrama spiced up by its relationship triangle, The Tender Hook lets us off the hook too easily. There's no great involvement or investment in the characters. When Iris cries, we should be affected by her tears, instead of marvelling at the cinematography.