Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Julius Avery
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Brenton Thwaites, Alicia Vikander, Matt Nable, Tom Budge, Jacek Koman,.
One of the few genres that Australian filmmakers seem to get right is the crime genre, and this year has delivered a couple of great little thrillers in Felony and The Reckoning, although neither exactly set the box office alight. Which is a shame because they deserved a bigger audience. And so does this tough but derivative generic crime thriller. There are hopes that this film will fare strongly at the box office, but it may well do better overseas than locally.
When we first meet the 19-year-old JR (Brenton Thwaites) he is a young prisoner beginning a six month stint in a tough Western Australian prison for an undisclosed crime. But the naive youngster is soon pulled into a world he is not really a part of. He is saved from a beating by tough inmate and notorious bank robber Brendan Lynch (Trainspotting‘s Ewan McGregor), who takes the naive and impressionable young prisoner under his wing. It is JR’s understanding of the intricacies of chess that bonds them. Of course, Brendan expects JR’s help in return for his protection.
Upon release JR organises a daring helicopter escape from Brendan, who teams up with Russian mobster Sam (Jacek Koman). Then he becomes involved in the daring robbery of gold bullion from a Kalgoorlie gold refinery. But there are the usual double crosses and betrayals, and JR becomes unsure of who he can trust as things begin to unravel in violent fashion. A further complication sees JR fall for Natasha (Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, from A Royal Affair, etc), who works for Sam.
This is the debut feature film from Julius Avery (best known for his award winning short the gritty Jerrycan), and while it is slickly directed, Son Of A Gun is still fairly derivative stuff. The helicopter rescue seems like something out of Breakout, the 1975 Charles Bronson action film, while the shootout at the gold refinery seems reminiscent of Michael Mann’s Heat. And as with Boaz Yakin’s Fresh, the chess here is meant to show us that JR is actually quite intelligent and astute, and capable of outthinking a wily veteran like Brendan.
For a little while it seems as though Son Of A Gun is going to be another in a long line of tough, grim and brutal prison movies (a popular genre with Stir, the superb The Shawshank Redemption, the tv series Oz, etc), full of beatings, gang violence and even a brutal shower rape or two. But thankfully, writer and director Avery has other things on his mind and deftly takes this noir like crime film in more intriguing directions.
Avery handles the key action scenes competently enough, and his direction of the shootout and a car chase are quite muscular. His visceral and adrenaline-charged direction of these scenes brings a strong sense of chaos to the material. The big action scenes are like something out of a big budget action film from Hollywood, although here the limitations of the budget show through in the staging. There are a few twists in the plot, and the final twist seems like one too many and is a little to clever for its own good. Avery and his cinematographer Nigel Bluck (the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, etc) utilise some great sun drenched Western Australian locations to good advantage.
Former Home And Away star Thwaites is poised to become the next big thing, with roles in big budget Hollywood fare like Disney’s Maleficent, spooky horror film Occulus and YA adaptation The Giver. He gives JR a hint of vulnerability. McGregor is by turns charming and malevolent as the wily veteran criminal who takes JR under his wing and develops an almost paternal interest in his welfare. His presence will ensure that international distributors will pick it up and give overseas audiences a chance to see the film.
Avery has assembled a strong ensemble cast to flesh out the characters, including former rugby star Matt Nable as one of Lynch’s gang; Tom Budge, who brings a touch of awkward humour to his role as a volatile thug; while Koman lacks any real sense of menace as a crime kingpin. Vikander is lumbered with a fairly cliched role, and the romance with JR actually slows down the pace at a critical juncture, and actually adds little to the film.
Son Of A Gun could have been another great example of genre filmmaking, but instead it is a flawed and vaguely disappointing film that is let down by a clichéd second half. The film is flawed, but nonetheless Avery stamps himself as a filmmaker to watch if given the right material.
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