After a summer full of films that stress action at the expense characterization and coherent plotting, it's hard not to warm to something like "The Hard Word," which at least has its priorities straight.

Refreshingly, this Aussie thriller is all about characters — interesting characters, and several of them could hold a movie on their own. Though it certainly doesn't neglect action when the story calls for it.

Still, despite its twists, the story is a familiar one. And the movie feels a little uneasy in its blending of drama and dark comedy. It's as if the film wants to be cheeky — along the lines of "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" — but won't fully commit to that. (The film's language and violence make it a hard R, and it does use subtitles to make some of its dialogue more comprehensible.)

Another point in its favor is the cast, made up primarily of Aussie television actors. One of the few recognizable names is Guy Pearce, who stars Dale Twentyman, the oldest of three brothers imprisoned for bank robbery.

Dale is the brains of the operations, while quick-tempered Shane (Joel Edgerton) and sweet-natured Mal (Damian Richardson) provide the brawn (although the brothers insist on using methods that ensure no one gets hurt during their crimes).

Thanks to their shifty lawyer and partner, Frank Malone (Robert Taylor), the three men are freed in exchange for pulling off a multimillion-dollar casino heist. Unfortunately, their shadowy benefactors insist on partnering them with others for the heist. If that's not bad enough, Dale may have been double-crossed by his wife, Carol (Rachel Griffiths), who may be having an affair with Frank.

First-time filmmaker Scott Roberts has a good ear for dialogue. And most of his wilder plot twists do make sense within the context of the story. And the cast is good; the animosity that develops between Pearce and Griffiths' characters is believable, while Richardson's lovable Mal gives us a criminal to root for.

"The Hard Word" is rated R for frequent use of strong sexual profanity and crude slang terms, violence (gunplay and some beatings), gore, simulated sex (mostly overheard), brief female nudity, and use of some ethnic slurs. Running time: 102 minutes