Two Hands: 'One wrong decision'

Title:
Two Hands: 'One wrong decision'
NFSA ID:
414217
Year:
1999
Category:
WARNING: This clip contains coarse language
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Desperate for a swim, Jimmy (Heath Ledger) buries an envelope containing $10,000 in the sand at Bondi beach. While he’s in the water, street kids Helen (Mariel McClorey) and Pete (Evan Sheaves) steal the money. The ghost of Jimmy’s brother (Steve Vidler) sets out some themes of the story, as Jimmy discovers his mistake.

Summary by Paul Byrnes.

Director Gregor Jordan accentuates the contrast between heat and refreshing water by the way he has shot this scene. The extra bright glare of the beach gives way to an underwater shot that suggests how the scene fits into a theme: the instant gratification of cooling off, versus the more prudent option, which is to stay hot and protect the money. A lot of the film is about people who make the wrong choices and end up in awful situations, sometimes dead. The ghost, a character for whom Jordan was criticised in the initial reviews, is Jimmy’s brother, although it’s never explicitly stated. He functions a bit like ghosts in Shakespeare and other classical drama, but it was a sign of how many risks Jordan was prepared to take, that he would write him into a contemporary violent comedy.

Two Hands synopsis

Jimmy (Heath Ledger), a small-time wannabe criminal, loses $10,000 on Bondi Beach. The money belongs to Pando (Bryan Brown), the toughest criminal in Kings Cross, who sends his killer deputy Acko (David Field) to find him. Jimmy’s sister-in-law Deirdre (Susie Porter) agrees to set up an armed robbery, so Jimmy can repay the money. Meanwhile the two street kids who took the money (Mariel McClorey and Evan Sheaves) go on a shopping spree. The ghost of Jimmy’s dead brother (Steve Vidler) frequently appears, attempting to keep watch over him, but Jimmy can’t stay out of trouble. When he meets up with Alex (Rose Byrne), a sweet country girl he has just met, Pando’s men grab him, intending to kill him.

Two Hands curator's notes

Two Hands was a refreshing and confident debut from Gregor Jordan, one of the first winners of Tropfest – an annual short film competition – to make a feature. It’s a clever mix of genre elements, heavily influenced by US and British comic crime films of the 1990s, but with a strongly Australian vernacular tone. Indeed, the characterisations of Australian criminal types are one of the film’s main assets, as is the way that Jordan insists on showing them in domestic situations. Pando, the Bryan Brown character, talks lovingly to his small son on the phone; we see him helping the boy with his origami, just seconds before he sets out to kill Jimmy. One of the film’s funniest scenes has Jimmy getting ready for an armed robbery in the lounge room of a suburban house. The experienced criminal Wozza (Steve Le Marquand) talks about the benefits of shotguns as his children crawl around on the floor.

These scenes link to a speech given at the film’s outset by the ghost (Steve Vidler), who says that no one is all good or all bad. Pando is a murderer who also loves his kids, crime is his profession, not who he is. At the same time, the film has a few moments of shocking violence that are completely unexpected, and one character (Acko, played by David Field) that really does personify great evil. In a sense, it’s a film about the transition from child to adult, innocence to corruption, with Acko as the worst case scenario. Jimmy is on the road to perdition until he meets Alex (Rose Byrne). He has always wanted to work with his hands, he tells her, and she suggests a way out of the life he’s leading. The movie is partly an accusation about inequality of opportunity in modern Australia, though the message is well hidden behind layers of confident comedy.

Notes by Paul Byrnes.

Education notes

This clip shows Jimmy (Heath Ledger) at a beach anxiously waiting to deliver an important envelope. He is tempted by the ocean and the lure of a girl, so he buries the envelope and goes for a swim. A dramatic voice-over by the narrator warns that his decision will have disastrous consequences. When Jimmy surfaces he notices that his place on the sand has been disturbed. He rushes to the spot to find the envelope gone and violently accuses another bather of its theft.

Educational value points

  • The narration, music and cinematography provide context for Jimmy’s future troubles. As Jimmy furtively buries the envelope, the narrator’s ominous tone and obvious maxims about chaos theory ('Sometimes small things can magnify themselves into big things’) and the conspiratorial, urgent musical score suggest that there will be serious consequences for the decision Jimmy has made.
  • The shots of Jimmy hiding the envelope in the sand, the warning sign, the sudden flight of birds and the young people watching him are edited to indicate exactly what will happen. The editing of the three shots in linear succession unambiguously shows the action (burying the envelope), the risk (possible theft) and the threat (the watchful youngsters) and succinctly informs the viewer that the young people are probably going to steal the buried envelope.
  • The intense lighting of the beach before Jimmy enters the water conveys the heat – physical and metaphorical – and the unforgiving nature of the setting. Heat is a key motivator for Jimmy’s actions in the clip. Moreover, the lighting of the beach represents it as a place where nothing can be hidden and the ramifications of that are direct and brutal. The lighting changes while Jimmy is underwater, representing a brief respite from that reality.
  • The musical score reflects Jimmy’s changing situation. The initial jazz sounds of saxophone and xylophone are as breezy and untroubled as the beach scene appears to be. That music fades to be replaced by the enticing sounds of the surf and frolicking people. The music returns to rhythmically urge Jimmy into the water. As the clip concludes the sounds of percussion and urgent violins emphasise Jimmy’s panicked state.
  • The underwater scene marks a transition in the sequence. Accompanied by the narrator’s warning about making the wrong choice, Jimmy’s brief immersion may be seen as a moment out of time. The swirling water above him may allude to his inner turmoil, while his wide-open eyes looking directly at the camera are questioning. When he abruptly resurfaces, it is into a world where his life has changed dramatically.
  • The tone of the narration is moralising, perhaps in part because the narrator is Jimmy’s brother, who has been killed by a gangster. When Jimmy is about to enter the water the narrator warns: 'One careless decision can affect the way the rest of your life can unfold …’. Similarly, the young people are warned about taking the low road or the high road. The omniscient narrator hints at the consequences of the protagonists’ actions and signals that all may not end well for Jimmy.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia.

Production company:
Blindfold 3
Producer:
Marian Macgowan
Executive producers:
Timothy White, Bryce Menzies, Mark Turnbull
Director:
Gregor Jordan
Writer:
Gregor Jordan
Music:
Cezary Skubiszewski
Cast:
Bryan Brown, Rose Byrne, Kieran Darcy-Smith, David Field, Tony Forrow, Heath Ledger, Steve Le Marquand, Tom Long, Mariel McClorey, Adam Muncu, Kiri Paramore, Susie Porter, Evan Sheaves, Steven Vidler

Jimmy stands at the edge of the water at Bondi Beach, letting the waves run over his feet. He goes to sit on the sand, glancing at his watch and watching everyone in the water. His interest is sparked by a young woman in a bikini. He begins to dig a hole in the sand.
Narrator Sometimes small things can magnify themselves into big things. The flap of a butterfly wing can turn itself into a raging tornado.

Jimmy discreetly buries an envelope containing $10,000 in the sand.
Narrator A tiny little ripple can end up as a devastating tidal wave.

A sign reads ‘Thieves go to the beach too … Keep your belongings safe.’ Helen and Pete sit on concrete steps, watching Jimmy undress.
Narrator One careless decision can affect the way the rest of your life will unfold.

Jimmy dives into the water.
Narrator The trick is to think very hard before you take the high road or the low road…

Helen and Pete run down the steps as Jimmy swims underwater.
Narrator …because the wrong choice can really fuck you up – big time.

Jimmy surfaces and turns to look at his belongings on the beach. There is a hole in the sand where he buried the money. Panicked, he runs out of the water. He digs in the sand, spraying it all over a young man sunbaking.
Jimmy Did you see someone go through me stuff?
Sunbaking man Sorry?
Jimmy leans over the man, violently pulling his book away from his face.
Jimmy Someone stole me fucking stuff. Did you see someone go through it?
Sunbaking man No, I didn’t see anything.
Jimmy grabs the man’s backpack and shakes it out. The man backs away. People look on.
Jimmy Shit!