Director: John Tatoulis
Stars: Lakis Lazopoulos, Zoe Carides, John Bluthal, Claudia Buttazoni
First viewing, via DVD
Contemporary Australia is a multicultural nation. While local films tend to be Anglo-Australian or Indigenous in their preoccupations, a number of films do reflect this multiculturalism. There are films depicting both the migration experience (see, for example, They’re a Weird Mob and Floating Life), the experience of growing up in migrant families (e.g. Head On and Looking for Alibrandi), and the collision of cultures (the recent Down Under). Moreover, many comedies have milked the ethnic Australian experience for laughs (Alex and Eve, The Wog Boy, Pizza). Beware of Greeks Bearing Guns is another addition to this list.
Manos (Lakis Lazopoulos) is a school teacher whose grandfather was murdered in Crete almost sixty years ago. When the killer Vasilli is tracked down in Melbourne, Australia, Manos is tasked with travelling to Australia to slay his grandfather’s killer, much to the chagrin of his twin brother George (also Lazopoulos) whose firebrand personality makes him better suited to the task. Manos travels to Melbourne, where he is reunited with childhood sweetheart Nicki (Zoe Carides) and her daughter Katerina (Claudia Buttazoni), and is mentored by old family friend Stephanos (John Bluthal) to do the deed. George, however, has other plans…
The title Beware of Greeks Bearing Guns and the film’s poster art (see above) suggest a highly caffeinated, Guy Ritchie-esque black comedy gangster flick. However, the film is much more of a chamomile tea. Both the comedic and thriller elements of the film are fairly tame, and likewise the dramatic stakes, and overall the tone of the film is best described as gentle and mild-mannered. If there’s one thing director John Tatoulis (who earlier helmed the Russell Crowe-starring family flick The Silver Brumby) and writers Tom Galbraith and Lazopoulos (multi-tasking as both star and scribe) fail to seize upon, it’s the potential comedic clash between Australian and Cretan cultures. That’s not to say there should have been They’re a Weird Mob/Crocodile Dundee-style fish out of water scenarios, but by largely confining Manos and George’s interactions to the Cretan community both in Crete and Melbourne (with a few minor exceptions), it feels like there’s some missed comic potential. Actually, more than anything, I’m disappointed the koala on the poster isn’t anywhere in the film.
Lazopoulos, a popular performer in his native Greece, is engaging in his dual role as Manos and George. Manos is the more subdued of the siblings and George the more passionate, and where many actors may have gone broad in differentiating the two siblings, Lazopoulos modulates by just a matter of degrees, which is all that’s needed. Carides is an actress I’ve liked a great deal since seeing Death in Brunswick at an impressionable age, and she’s good as Nicki, initially perturbed by Manos’s presence but gradually warming to him over the course of the film. On paper Nicki’s written as fiery, but like Lazopoulos the actress wisely opts to play it real. Buttazoni also delivers nice, nuanced work as Nicki’s daughter, and Bluthal, likely best known to modern audiences as one of the stars of The Vicar of Dibley, offers additional levity.
In summary: After several somewhat abrasive films (Metal Skin, Bondi Tsunami, Les Patterson Saves the World), Beware of Greeks Bearing Guns is refreshingly benign in temperament. It won’t get the blood pumping, but it’s a pleasant diversion.
Next week: The criminally neglected Indigenous drama/thriller Dead Heart (1996).