3 August 2001 | Philby-3
Indeed it was
Members of the New South Wales Police Force, now called the Police Service, are the spiritual descendants of that raffish group of officers and men called 'The Rum Corps' who once took over the fledgling colony of New South Wales and expelled the Governor, the unhappy William Bligh. They were not called to account for that action and have been getting away with it ever since, even on occasion with murder. This 3 hour film traces the rise and decline of two policeman, one honest and the other a fine inheritor of the old traditions, and the careers of some of the criminals they were supposed to be catching. Made 5 years ago, its showing in NSW was held up until July 2001 because of outstanding charges against some of the principals, even though all the events depicted took place at least 10 years before the film was made.
It is an exciting story and I found it enthralling, despite knowing its broad outline. The core of it is the evolving relationship between gung-ho armed hold-up squad detective, Roger Rogerson, and the criminal he 'manages,' Arthur 'Neddy' Smith. Early on, Rogerson makes it clear that he is in charge and Neddy will do what he is told. As the story progresses, and Rogerson sinks deeper into the mire, Neddy becomes a partner, until the end they are co-conspirators in a number of evil deeds. Inevitably the 'management' of crime becomes criminal activity itself, and the bent copper turns out to be just as bad as the criminals he exploits.
Rogerson and the rest of the 'barbecue set' (his police cronies) were a bit unlucky that in the early 80s the NSW government by some oversight managed to appoint an honest police commissioner, John Avery, who, despite being a bit of a boy scout, made some inroads into entrenched corruption in the Force. Rogerson was also unlucky that the federal crime authorities, eager to prove their worth, spotted him as a target. Yet, despite being shown in the film as responsible for several killings, Rogerson's only convictions are for operating a bank account under a false name (which contained the proceeds of a Bentley he had sold) and then lying about it on oath.
This is a particularly well-made film, with a grainy realism appropriate to the subject matter, good locations (the real places, mostly) and good lighting, cinematography and editing. Some of the acting is also first-rate. Richard Roxburgh is quite uncanny - he IS Roger Rogerson, and Tony Martin gives us an interesting well-rounded Neddy, a character it would be easy to portray as a monster. Bill Hunter as always steals his few scenes as Black Angus McDonald, the (now dead) corrupt senior policeman who protects Rogerson, and Steve Bastoni is quietly effective as the hesitant but honest and rather brave policeman Michael Drury.
I also enjoyed John Hargreaves, all good-humoured guile, as barrister Chester 'Funnel-Web' Porter. Chester, a legend of the Sydney Bar, represented Rogerson on a criminal charge trying to bribe Drury into giving false evidence. After getting a celebrity acquitted in difficult circumstances previously, Chester had been presented by some of his fellow barristers with a T-shirt bearing the legend 'Chester Porter walks on water'. In the end, however, even Chester cannot save Rogerson, the most highly decorated policeman in the state, from public disgrace.
Roger the Dodger is still around, in fact he was reported recently as admiring Richard Roxburgh's performance (as well he might). As for the rest though, 'it's all bullshit mate.'
Postscript 2006: "The Dodger" by former policeman Duncan Macnab chronicles Roger's rise and fall.