Perth in the 1980s was the per­fect scene for a heist of spec­tac­u­lar pro­por­tions — and a bit of ‘no­ble cause cor­rup­tion’ from the po­lice in re­sponse first watch

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Graeme Blun­dell

SINCE the Un­der­belly saga be­gan sev­eral years ago, hav­ing been com­mis­sioned by a brave Nine net­work, we’ve grown to love our mor­dant fables of avarice, vi­o­lence and death. We en­joy the idea of a story be­ing lifted from the raw ma­te­rial of life that will hope­fully shape ex­pe­ri­ence and de­liver some wis­dom.

And Nine, a net­work in dis­ar­ray, nev­er­the­less still seems com­mit­ted to the task of ex­am­in­ing un­tidy truths about slices of our past cul­tural his­tory, en­cour­ag­ing pro­duc­ers to nudge them into a pleas­ing shape­li­ness that con­tin­ues to be highly ad­dic­tive for many of us.

The lat­est is from the Cordell Jig­saw com­pany that last year gave us the SBS ob­ser­va­tional se­ries Go Back to Where You Came From, which dealt with the pol­i­tics of asy­lum, and the ABC’S On Trial, the riv­et­ing five-part show fea­tur­ing un­prece­dented ac­cess to sev­eral tri­als in Aus­tralian courts.

Both were rare, un­var­nished tele­vi­sion — as is The Great Mint Swin­dle, a tele­movie about the some­times up­set­ting am­bi­gu­ity be­tween in­sti­tu­tional law en­force­ment and true jus­tice. A com­pul­sive true story about Perth’s Mick­el­berg broth­ers and the way they be­came em­broiled in the most fa­mous — still un­solved — gold heist in our his­tory, the movie is par­ti­san and de­signed to elicit outrage at in­jus­tice. It’s a ter­rific ex­am­ple of TV’S bur­geon­ing true crime genre where it’s not enough to just present a good story. It has to be au­then­tic, with char­ac­ters that take you by the hand and lead you deep into the ar­gu­ment and ad­ven­ture while dis­clos­ing in­ter­est­ing se­crets.

Swin­dle is a 20-year saga of greed, cor­rup­tion and per­sonal tragedy. And, strik­ingly con­densed into 11/ hours, it’s about three knock­about blokes with a taste for ad­ven­ture and their feud with Perth’s sin­is­ter brother­hood of cops, in a city where un­til quite re­cently the po­lice ran wild.

In 1982 Ray (Grant Bowler), Peter (Todd La­sance) and Brian (Josh Quong Tart) Mick­el­berg are im­pli­cated in a no­to­ri­ous ca­per straight out of an El­more Leonard novel: a bril­liant heist of gold bars worth $650,000. Car­ried out with mil­i­tary pre­ci­sion and in­ge­nu­ity, there is no vi­o­lence, no vic­tims and few clues. There are only mys­ter­ies that right­eous cop De­tec­tive Don­ald Les­lie Han­cock (Shane Bourne) and his loyal No 2, De­tec­tive Tony ‘‘ Lewi’’ Le­wandowski (John Batch­e­lor) are de­ter­mined to solve. If they can’t, they’ll sim­ply pin it on the cock­sure boys, us­ing their fists, fab­ri­cat­ing con­fes­sions and plant­ing ev­i­dence. This polic­ing is known in the west as ‘‘ no­ble cause cor­rup­tion’’.

Han­cock is the hard-boiled de­tec­tive who must de­cide for him­self just what kind of jus­tice can be ac­com­plished in the am­bigu­ous ur­ban world of in­creas­ingly wealthy and cor­rupt Perth. As the story be­gins nar­ra­tor Peter Mick­el­berg, who will spend most of his 20s be­hind the im­pos­ing walls of Fre­man­tle Prison, tells us that WA is ‘‘ a big state full of big men with big dreams and big stom­achs; greed was good’’.

He and his broth­ers are no match for a new monied es­tab­lish­ment em­bar­rassed by

Shane Bourne, cen­tre, is up against the Mick­el­berg broth­ers in The Great Mint Swin­dle

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