Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Paul Ireland
Stars: John Brumpton, Damian Hill, Kerry Armstrong, Mark Coles Smith, Malcolm Kennard, Daniel Fredericksen, Tony Rickards, Maeve Dermody, John Orcsik.
Written by actor Damian Hill (Neighbours, etc) and directed by Paul Ireland, Pawno is a gritty ensemble driven slice of life drama and also a love letter to the suburb of Footscray and its multicultural nature and colourful inhabitants. It revolves around a seedy and cluttered pawn shop located in Barkly Street and the motley character who pass through its doors during a period of twenty four hours. The film itself follows twelve intertwined individual stories that deal with themes of lost love, last chances, new beginnings, heartache and despair.
The shop is run by the gruff, weary Les Underwood (played by John Brumpton), a former boxer who, on the surface, displays little compassion for the various clientele that do business with him. His assistant is the shy and vulnerable Danny (played by writer Hill), who is in love with Kate (Maeve Dermody, from Beautiful Kate, etc), a pretty girl who works in the book store down the road.
During the course of the film we meet a diverse range of characters, including Jennifer (Kerry Armstrong), a mother worried about her missing son; the seemingly lonely transvestite Paige (Daniel Frederickson) who finds life something of a struggle; Harry (Tony Rickards, from Neighbours, etc) an inveterate gambler who is growing increasingly desperate; and Tony Robinson (played by Cop Shop‘s John Orcsik), a man who pawns his video camera but who also has a secret to hide.
Hill’s script is filled with a raw honesty in its examination of these often flawed characters. This marks the debut feature for former actor turned director Ireland (who has been seen in lots of television series such as Rush, Outland, etc), and he handles the material with sensitivity, and seems attuned to the characters and their foibles.
And we also meet Pauly (Mark Coles Smith, from Last Cab To Darwin, etc) and Carlo (Malcolm Kennard, from the mini-series The Devil’s Playground, etc), a streetwise duo who hang around on the streets smoking and talking nonsense. There is a seemingly improvised nature to their riffs and banter, but as characters they add little beyond an amusing diversion.
Brumpton’s Underwood is the most interesting pawn shop owner since Rod Steiger’s Oscar-nominated turn as a former concentration camp survivor running his own shop in New York in Sidney Lumet’s searing 1964 drama The Pawnbroker. Underwood is a volatile character and a former boxer who puts this skill to good use when dealing with a tough and demanding character. But underneath his gruff exterior lies a softer and more caring character who rarely shows his compassionate nature. It’s a layered and textured performance that rank as one of Brumpton’s best roles since the horror film The Loved Ones.
Pawno was shot on the streets of Footscray itself and cinematographer Shelley Farthing-Dawe’s lensing lends authenticity to the setting. Pawno is a great achievement for first time director Ireland, who manages to stretch his limited budget a long way. It is a testimony to the strength of the script that Hill and Ireland have been able to attract such a strong ensemble cast to bring to life the various characters. Some are more memorable than others, but they make for a colourful cross section. The strong soundtrack features music from Tom Waits and Vance Joy and complements the gritty drama.