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Reviewed by Jacob Powell
ON THE WAY in to see Three Dollars, I saw a byline regarding the movie on a promotional poster which read:
“One of the best films yet made in Australia.”
This is the kind of comment that causes my cynicism glands to start working overtime – I cringed as I walked past – but I have to say, after leaving the theatre a couple of hours later, I thoroughly agreed.
Three Dollars is adapted from a book by author Elliot Perlman who, along with director Robert Connolly (The Bank), co-wrote the screenplay. Together they use the film to critique the social and economic climate of present day Australia. How much sway do corporate interests have over public concerns? What is the cost of living out your values? How relevant are those values anyway? These are several key questions that protagonist Eddie Harnovey is faced with in this excavation of his life.
Eddie (David Wenham, The Bank, The Lord of the Rings) is a government chemical engineer living what seems a normal, middle-class Australian life. He’s married to his girlfriend from his university days, Tanya (Frances O’Connor, Mansfield Park, Windtalkers); they have a young daughter, Abby (Joanna Hunt-Prokhovnik); and have not long bought their first home. Everything is as it ‘should be’.
Like any couple they are going through their share of struggles. Though both are well educated and politically liberal they are feeling the slow slide away from their 20-something, post-punk idealism to a waning soundtrack of Joy Division.
Three Dollars illustrates how much the stability of the middle classe has eroded. Relatively few changes in situation could see all but the very rich fall below the poverty line. In his favour, Eddies’ generally calm attitude and self-deprecatory ability to laugh at whatever comes his way seem to help him stay afloat.
Bisecting this life story in a deep rhythm cycle (every 9½ years) is Amanda – Eddies’ childhood friend and infatuation. They share a mozzarella-like bond which stretches to almost nothing but refuses to come completely apart. Each provides a steadying hand for the other when both least expect it. It seems fitting that their odd relationship is accompanied by just as strange a portent. Their every meeting is preceded by an incident involving Eddie and three dollars – hence the film’s title.
Three Dollars opens with a dialogue-free scene of Eddie packing up his cubicle and leaving his office under duress (as attested to by the security overseeing the proceedings). From here we cut into flashbacks to childhood as the present day Eddie narrates various details of some of his formative relationships.
This is a pattern that continues throughout the film. Action followed by narrated flashback which, bit by bit, provides insight into his background and context for the unfolding sequence of events. Connolly uses this technique well. He doesn’t unnecessarily confuse the audience but uncovers just enough of the picture at each step to keep our appetite for the story whet.
All secondary characters are seen through Eddies’ eyes. They are represented in sections, our perception of them changing and broadening with each sequence of action and memory as Connolly sifts through Eddies various feelings towards each at given junctures.
Eddie is characterised by a streak of compassion which sees him notice and respond to the needs of people wholly unconnected to him whilst he struggles to deal with those to whom he is closest.
It is this sense of duality that struck me most about Eddie. He is all too passive in the everyday. Life happens to Eddie and he responds. It is only when faced with an outside need that he becomes a person of action. Even then he seems somewhat stifled. You get the feeling that he wants to be more proactive but is afraid, unsure and lacks drive. As we travel with him, circumstances push Eddie to a place where he has no choice but to act, or walk away from that sense of self upon which his life has been built.
A kind of karmic reciprocation of events conspires in Eddies’ life. In the midst of his philanthropic acts his beneficiaries ask “Why are you doing this?” Later, through a bizarre turn of events, he finds himself on the receiving end of the equation from the same people to whom he has given help, and more importantly, some measure of respect. This inversion of fate seems to provide him with the spark which he has been missing.
Connolly has taken a well written story, and turned it into an engaging and accessible film which gives the audience plenty to mull over. The cast all bring their roles to life in a fresh, believable fashion and the direction, whilst smart, is not overtly in your face. It’s been a few months since I’ve walked out of a cinema feeling so invigorated by the experience.
Sometimes things need to change. If you don’t change them then maybe ‘life’ will conspire to change them for you. How will you respond? How much change is in your pocket?
» Robert Connolly | Australia | 2005 | 118 min | Featuring: David Wenham, Frances O’Connor, Sarah Wynter, Robert Menzies, Joanna Hunt-Prokhovnik, and David Roberts. IN THEATRES NOW.