Other than maybe the inspirational sports movie, few concepts have been as thoroughly covered by films and television than "the bag full of money." Not just thrillers, either, but also a great deal of more staid dramas, plenty of comedies, and no doubt at least a handful of horror movies have covered this chestnut -- a case could be made that The Box is the sci-fi variant. However, there are really only so many morality tales to wring out of such a simple situation, and Swerve arrives long past the point of diminishing returns. Although it has a nice little trump card to play at the very end, the rest of its running time is more like a suitcase full of tired tropes and boring stock characters, with the added bonus that the filmmaking is completely lacking in consistency or subtlety.
David Lyons is Colin, a man simply passing through a small town on the way to a job interview (cliche #1). On a dusty desert road, a man in a hurry tries to pass Colin at the same time another person in the adjacent lane is approaching in a big hurry. The man flies off the road and is killed in a spectacular crash, and the other driver, the beautiful Jina (Emma Booth) -- cliche #2 -- is shaken but otherwise okay. There, Colin finds the requisite briefcase, packed to the brim with bills. Being the good citizen that he is, he drives back to the town after dropping Jina at home, and delivers the briefcase to the police station, where Frank (Jason Clarke) is happy to lock it in the single holding cell. Frank invites Colin to dinner, where it of course turns out that Jina is Frank's unhappy wife. Cue misunderstandings, violence, seduction, blah blah blah.
Right away, Swerve climbs onto the nerves, as Jina is a woman with a mysterious past who is clearly trying to escape Frank when everything goes south. Frank figures this out immediately, and of course Jina knows what she was up to; hell, even Colin learns it quickly enough. Since Frank is an abusive dick, what conceivable reason is there for him to invite a stranger over to his house, when the stranger a) knows about a suitcase full of money that Frank intends to keep for himself, and b) his wife just tried to make a run for it? Jina blows two tires in the accident, but there is no obvious reason she could only have escaped on that single day; presumably, Frank would want to exert his control over her. While Frank is at the office learning some of these things, Jina also tries to seduce Colin, which made me want to throw my remote at the TV. The seduction involves dialogue that director / writer Craig Lahiff thinks is clever but is actually obnoxiously on-the-nose ("Would it kill you to call me Jina?" "It just might."), as do many other scenes in the movie ("Ten minutes won't change my life," a character mentioning Verdi's "Force of Destiny").
Movies are often accused of having "no likable characters." Many great, fascinating characters aren't likable; what they likely mean is that every character is unlikable. That's certainly the case with Swerve, at least part of which stems from none of them acting logically. Colin is the worst offender, the kind of upstanding guy who would turn in a briefcase full of money but would apparently also agree to, say, help dump a body in a well because it might make someone look bad. Predictably, someone who was expecting the aforementioned sack of money comes looking for it (Travis McMahon), and, as any good criminal who doesn't want to get caught doing criminal things, starts killing nearly every person he meets...except the characters that matter, of course. Lahiff piles on the irritation by believing that "character driven" means "having an excessive amount of characters." Two men from Jina's past come into play (one of whom is already dead). At least one peripheral character, whose identity is never known, is introduced just so the antagonist can kill them.
On top of it all, Lahiff is not too good at plotting or directing. In one scene, Jina notices the killer tailing her car, and she sees a bus ahead. In a normal movie, she would sneak through a gap that the bus itself closes, preventing the killer from following her further, but here, the bus slams on its brakes and the killer inexplicably runs into it, as if he can't see an entire bus several yards out behind one car directly in front of him. In another scene, Colin is ostensibly sleeping, yet when he climbs out of bed to investigate something he's still wearing his jeans under the covers, which is weird. He goes down the hall and sees Jina with Frank in their bedroom, and Jina notices and shuts the door before Frank sees Colin. A few scenes later, Colin references the moment by saying "I heard you last night," which is weird, because they clearly looked directly at each other Jina even openly acknowledged Colin's presence. These kinds of details may not be hugely important to the plot, but they're so obviously inconsistent, speaking to an overall sloppiness that comes back to haunt the film in its final moments. It's a two-part coda, one part of which is clever, while the other is somewhat confusing. Hard for me to respect a movie's desire for the viewer to pay attention when the filmmakers couldn't be bothered to do the same thing.
As with every Cohen Media release, Swerve comes in a transparent Viva Elite Blu-Ray case (not blue), with a piece of artwork (in this case, an uninspiring "big head" poster) framed by the label's giant red C. Inside the case, there is a four-page booklet featuring chapter stops, a short cast list, and some photos, but no actual liner notes, which always baffles me -- other studios can't be bothered to pay for this kind of thing, and Cohen goes the extra mile without any content to use it on. Oh, well.
The Video and Audio
Swerve is at least very strong on the technical front. The 2.39:1 1080p AVC picture does feature a noticeable amount of noise in low-light scenes, but it appears to be inherent to the original photography, and the picture looks really strong even with it, offering excellent detail, striking colors, and no other banding or artifacting that I could see. Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that features some nice action upfront to get the mix started with a bang, then steps back to work on dialogue and more ambient sounds and surrounds. Music is vibrant, dialogue is crisp, and atmosphere is spot-on. A rushing action sequence set on a train brings the action level back up for the big finish. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included, as is a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track.
Very short interviews with Jason Clarke (3:38), Travis McMahon (1:43), Robert Mammone (1:3), and Lahiff (2:18) -- not director / writer Craig, but Sean, the editor -- are included. Forgettable before they're over.
Trailers for Mademoiselle C, Black Jack, and Inspector Lavardin play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for Swerve is also included.
Viewers that are in for a good twisty crime thriller, or even specifically a "bag full of money" story have literally thousands upon thousands of better films to choose from -- some of which even hail from the same country! The film's last little wink is actually quite satisfying, but none of the rest of it manages to grab hold. Skip it.
Please check out my other DVDTalk DVD, Blu-Ray and theatrical reviews and/or follow me on Twitter.