The Big Steal (1990)

Rates: * * * 1/2

Why Did I Watch It? Recommended by fatiekitz

Cast, crew, etc.


Danny is a Melbourne teenager in the market for his first car; his dad wants to gift him the old family Nissan, but he has his eyes on a second hand Jag. Enter a greasy second hand car dealer; he’s got the exact vehicle Danny is after, but the shady deal he offers will rope him into escalating shenanigans involving a gang of petty car thieves.

Director Nadia Tass has a great feel for life in the Australian suburbs. In a series of films across the 80s and 90s she, and her husband and collaborator David Parker, told stories that perfectly captured the everyday. The people in her films sound like regular people, and do regular people things, which is more difficult than it sounds; especially in Australia, where ‘comedy’ often means ULTRA quirky. The characters here are just like people you know.

Future stars

This fun, coming of age story is well served by a top notch cast, featuring a number of future stars. A young Ben Mendelsohn, already radiating mega-watt charisma, is tops as Danny; a nice guy but one who is still figuring things out, and not immune to making rash and poorly thought through decisions. He is well paired with Claudia Karvan, a natural screen presence, whose character has enough depth to grapple with the difficulties of being one of the hotties; she is well over every guy trying to impress her with nonsense. And she ROCKS a pair of very cool cowboy boots.

Veteran character actor Steve Bisley heads up an excellent supporting cast; his cocky, villainous car dealer is like the walking definition of the term ‘dickhead’, and will remind any local of some idiot they have crossed paths with. His bouffant hair, aviator shades, and endless aggro prattle is very funny. Danny’s father, played by Marshall Napier, also has some choice moments (I especially like his reaction to Danny selling the family car).

A time capsule for locals. I live in Melbourne now, where this was shot, and in the backgrounds and locations, you can see how the city has changed: Swanston Street doesn’t look like this any more. There are also a lot of old ads and billboards, that add to that nostalgic feeling (remember when ‘Swan Beer’ was a thing? In Melbourne?!).

A low key charmer, and the sort of film we rarely see in Australia any more.