1994’s The Ref is not the longest film ever made at 97 minutes. Nonetheless it might well be slightly longer than it really needs to be. The premise is relatively simple – following a heist that goes wrong, career criminal Gus (Dennis Leary) takes married couple, Caroline and Lloyd (Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey) hostage and then struggles to maintain order, as he realises that they aren’t quite living in the marital bliss he might have assumed they were. It’s a decent concept for a black comedy and in general it works pretty well.
Nonetheless, the movie is intersected with various subplots involving minor characters that never really seem to go anywhere, don’t really add much of anything to the film and detract unnecessarily from the central premise.
If it were just the three leads on screen for the entire movie, there would more than enough to love about The Ref, and the redundant focusing on other characters sporadically throughout the running time is, at best, mildly perplexing and often slightly annoying.
However The Ref is still more than worth 97 minutes of anyone’s time. At its best it’s irreverent, subversive and darkly funny and when it does take the occasional misstep in pacing, it never deviates too far before returning to form.
Score for Christmasishness
Although hardly the most sentimental of seasonal offerings, there’s no denying that this is as close to a fully-fledged Christmas movie as they come. The action takes place on Christmas Eve and the Christmas setting drives a number of plot points forward, not least one of the more dysfunctional cinematic depictions of a festive family gathering in many a year. A Santa Claus costume also manages to weave its way into becoming a key narrative device, which is certainly enough to qualify this as a genuinely Christmas(ish) film.