Son of a Gun, 2014.
Directed by Julius Avery.
Starring Ewan McGregor, Brenton Thwaites, Alicia Vikander, Jacek Koman, Matt Nable, Tom Budge and Nash Edgerton.
JR busts out of prison with Brendan Lynch, Australia’s most notorious criminal, and joins Lynch’s gang for a gold heist that soon pits the two men against one another.
The output from Australian cinema has reached its most productive and successful level for a few years. New filmmakers, actors and production companies are thriving in amongst the big hitters of Hollywood, and some hugely gifted talent has been imported into the minds of the UK public. David Michod, James Wan, Joel Edgerton and Mia Wasikowska are just a few examples of the talented individuals who have Hollywood salivating. Next in line is debutant writer/director Julius Avery, who brings his first film, Son of a Gun, to the UK.
It’s a Scot, however, who headlines Avery’s Australian-set crime thriller, in the form of Obi-Wan Kenobi Ewan McGregor, who takes on a much darker role here, which if nothing else reminds us of what a damn fine talent he is. He stars as Brendan, a life-long criminal set for twenty years in a federal prison, but who was plotting his escape as soon as he walked in. He soon meets newest inmate JR (Brenton Thwaites) and takes him under his wing in a bid to utilise his naivety to escape, and soon enough the two of them are back in the Australian underworld, working for a local kingpin to snatch gold from a local refinery. That is, before JR gets wise to his act, and the two soon come to blows that will undoubtedly lead only one way.
And that, sadly, is the problem with Son of a Gun: you know almost immediately where the story is headed, and it’s nowhere that any other thriller has headed before. Avery certainly keeps things at a brisk place and handles the action set-pieces with some neat flashes – in particular the excellent car-chase shoot-out sequence around the hour mark – that show plenty of promise, but the story surrounding then has nowhere enough thrills to keep your interest as it thunders towards it’s inevitable conclusion.
The script tries hard to keep it’s early chess metaphor prominent throughout, as McGregor’s king tries to stay ahead of Thwaites’ remaining pawn from thinking it’s a bishop or a king, but rather than playing out as the slow, tactile battle of wits is overlooked in favour of a more thunderous, plodding game that has about as much strategic thoughts than a game of Blockbusters, but nowhere near as fun.
That said, the film is wonderful to look at, with cinematographer Nigel Buck (Lord of the Rings) beautifully capturing the harsh terrains and heat of the outback. You can almost feel the sweaty, grimy heat of the outback beneath your toes and fingers and on your own brow as we move from barren desert lands, dusty refineries and palatial king-pin palaces.
Performances too are a mixed bag, but it’s McGregor who shines and keeps the film at least mildly entertaining, and is his best performance in a while. A far more foul-mothered, Angry, and volatile character than he has played in recent years. With his thick red beard, he revels in the short-fused anger the character allows him, rather than having to worry about lightsabers or belting-out love ballads.
Thwaites continues to impress as McGregor’s new protege, and with this and the impressive, soon-to-be-released sci-fi tale The Signal, has certainly earned his place as one of the most exciting and capable young actors working today. Sadly, it’s Vikander, superb in Alex Garland’s Ex_Machina, who gets the short shrift here. As Tasha, the stripper/waitress with a heart of gold role who catches Thwaites’ affections, Vikander is given nothing close to the complexity of Machina, and is sadly never used as anything but token eye-candy.
For all its technical ability, sumptuous visuals and rewarding performances, it’s a shame that Son of a Gun is predictable, ponderous thriller. There is nothing new to be discovered here, with the film following many conventions that wouldn’t be out of place in any Antoine Fuqua effort. McGregor saves the day with a ferocious performance, but doesn’t save the film from the realms of distinctly average.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★/ Movie ★ ★