Solo (2006)

Country: Australia
Director: Morgan O’Neill
Starring: Colin Friels, Bojana Novakovic, Linal Haft, Vince Colosimo, Angie Milliken, Brian Harrison, Chris Haywood,
Music: Damian De Boos-Smith, Martyn Love

I am sure most readers are familiar with the Project Greenlight competition started by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. For the one or two people who are unfamiliar with the competition and the television show, it is a contest (or an opportunity, if you prefer) for amateur screen writers to get their script turned into a movie. The scripts are judged by fellow ‘greenlighters’ until they get down to the final one hundred and then the big guns move in to whittle down the numbers until one man and his script are standing. The winner gets to make a movie based on their script. In 2005 the Project Greenlight was exported to Australia.

Arrogantly, I thought I’d give it a shot, and was quite confident that I’d make the final one hundred. The script I beat up was for a little feature I called ‘A Lonely Way to Die’. It won’t surprise many of you to know that it was a spy film – or rather a black comedy spy film, littered with in-jokes from a myriad of obscure Eurospy films that only a hardened Eurospy fanatic would get. But I was still confident that my genius would shine through (please don’t laugh – I know I am deluded).

The story was set in the sixties, and it looked at the consequences of living a full-throttle hedonistic lifestyle for your average swingin’ superspy. What happens to the human body when you smoke three packets of cigarettes a day like James Bond? Or if you drink like ‘Dino’ in Matt Helm? The answer: generally poor health. So I gave my hero cancer, and had him battling enemy agents from his hospital bed as he underwent surgery and chemotherapy.

Needless to say the screenplay was a piece of crap and I didn’t make it into the top one hundred. But obviously the script submitted by Morgan O’Neill was of a considerably higher standard. He emerged at the end of the selection process as the winner of Project Greenlight Australia, and as a result, he got to direct his first feature film based on his script. It’s an Australian crime drama called Solo and it is set in Sydney.

The movie starts in a pretty subtle, but none-the-less grisly fashion. Jack Barrett (Colin Friels) is a hitman working for a underworld organisation known as ‘The Gentlemen’. When we meet jack he is chopping up the body of his latest piece of handiwork. He collects the pieces, and in a row boat sails out into the harbour, where, one by one, he tosses the pieces overboard.

Afterward Barrett is off to see his direct boss, Reno (Linal Haft). You know underworld organisations have many tiers and as such, Barrett has many bosses, but Reno is the guy that Barrett deals with directly. Now Barrett has been around the block quite a few times and he has seen a few things. He has been working for ‘The Gentlemen’ for over thirty years, but now he thinks it is time to step away from the business. Unfortunately, Reno doesn’t share the same opinion. ‘The Gentlemen’ aren’t exactly a ‘Gentlemen’s Club’ and you can’t just walk away. But Barrett is weary and doesn’t care. As far as he is concerned, he is ‘out’.

The first thing he does, is gather up all he his weapons and takes them to a shady pawn broker. Inside the shop, just loitering is Billie Finn (Bojana Novakovic). Billie is a university student who is writing a major thesis on Sydney’s underworld. When she sees Barrett walk in, she is immediately interested. The owner of the pawn shop, Kennedy (Bruce Spence) moves the girl along, but this only makes her more inquisitive and she starts to follow Barrett around.

Later that evening when Barrett gets home, he receives some good news and some bad news. The good news is that Reno has had a word with the upper echelon of “The Gentlemen’ and they are quite happy for him to retire. After all he has been working for them for so long, he’s practically family. The bad news is that they want him to make one final hit, as a show of good faith. The target is Billie Finn. In her quest for answers, she has been rubbing quite a few people in the Sydney underworld the wrong way. ‘The Gentlemen’ want her out of the way.

Barrett just can’t do it. Making matters worse, he ends up befriending the girl. Soon ‘The Gentlemen’ loose their patience and their faith in Barrett too, and they arrange to have him removed.

There’s an interesting bunch of supporting characters in Solo. Firstly there is Kate (Angie Milliken), who is the whore with a heart of gold. We all like ‘tarts with heart’ and Kate is one of the two people that Barrett almost has a ‘normal’ relationship with. The other friend that Barrett has is Havana (Brian Harrison). Havana is a piano player at the local RSL (Returned Servicemen’s League). He is 81 years old, but as times change, he represents a bit of class from the old days – the days when RSL’s served real meals – not Tofu, Eggplant and Pinenuts.

The film also features Vince Colosimo as a bent cop. It seems these days you can’t make an Australian gangster movie without Colosimo in it. His character here is not too dissimilar to the one he played in The Hard Word. Of course, Colosimo recently appeared in Underbelly as The Black Prince, Alphonse Gangitano. And before that, he played Neville Bartos in Chopper ‘….remember Neville I had that gun aimed at your head, and then reconsidered and lowered it to your kneecap…’

Solo is a bloody good film. It isn’t perfect, but it had a limited budget and was always intended to be a small film. But I think it punches above it’s weight. It’s a good little story – the ending a tad contrived – but it is really held together by the performances by Colin Friels and Linal Haft. In the end, director Morgan O’Neill can hold his head up pretty high. There were 1200 entrants in Project Greenlight. Each of them was eagre to thrust their script into the spotlight and tell their tale. If O’Neill had made a stinker, everybody, including my self, would be saying… ‘I could have done better than that!’ But O’Neill has proved himself a worthy winner, and to show for all his hard work, he has a top little Aussie Crime Drama that he should be proud to show to anyone.

Images from Ace Photos.

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Solo (2006)

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