Published on October 15th, 2014 | by Damien Straker
Son of a Gun – Film Review
Reviewed by Damien Straker on October 16th, 2014
eOne presents a film by Julius Avery
Produced by Timothy White
Written by Julius Avery
Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Ewan McGregor and Alicia Vikander
Music by Jed Kurzel
Cinematography: Nigel Bluck
Editing: Jack Hutchings
Running Time: 109 minutes
Release Date: October 16th, 2014
Son of a Gun, the first Australian feature film by Julius Avery, is trashy, sometimes unwatchable due its violence and underwritten in parts but also appropriately visceral, purposely cast and staged with memorable action sequences. The film isn’t concerned by plot. It recycles narratives collected from past genre films. It is firstly a prison film where a young man named JR (Home and Away and The Giver’s Brenton Thwaites) is protected from the vicious attacks of inmates by fellow criminal Brendan (Ewan McGregor). These gaol scenes, shot in a real prison, are extremely intense due to an eerie, whispery music score and tight framing. Thwaites is twenty-five but looks young for his age, adding fear when he is surrounded by heavyweight thugs. The close-ups allow him to act silently, relying on his eyes. JR remains aware of the danger closing in on him but is powerless. As Brendan, Ewan McGregor is also a strong acquisition. He is one of the most diverse actors in the industry and knows how to be intimidating but also injects black humour into his role. Both actors do well to enhance their characters because Avery’s own script is short on context and the dialogue resorts mostly to cursing. There is no backstory for JR, aside from hints of an abusive father and his motive like wanting a family feels sketchy and underdeveloped. We aren’t told why he is in a maximum security prison either, a sizeable plot hole considering he is released after six months. Also, how was Brendan certain JR wouldn’t disappear once on the outside with money and a gun, and instructed to prepare the breakout? Regardless, the way JR aids Brendan’s escape, using a helicopter, is well-staged and I thought it was plausible since a similar escapade was performed in real life a few years ago.
Following the escape, the film borrows another worn crime trope: the small time thug in love with the boss’s girl. JR falls for an immigrant named Tasha (Alicia Vikander). She works as a waitress in a strip club and she says only sticks around because she makes the crime boss, another man working with Brendan, look good. Who is using who is an idea expressed loudly through transparent symbols like a chess games and lines like “things are not what you imagine”. These illusions are instrumental in the second part of the film which structures itself around an elaborate heist, this time stealing gold bars from a mining company. The set piece takes inspiration from video games like Grand Theft Auto V, and is sharply orchestrated and intense, particularly with the combat involving a mixture of vehicles and firearms. You are not supposed to ask these questions with a film of this kind, but I had to wonder how hot a newly formed gold bar would be if they’re melted down in front of you. After the second heist, the film runs out of steam. Considering how much is already pinched, it’s not a surprise when there is a betrayal following the heist and these types of gangster films, specifically the ones from early Hollywood would only run for as long as eighty or ninety minutes, instead of under two hours. Some smaller scenes at the backend are also poorly staged, including some bad disguises at an airport. Meanwhile, there is a morally questionable ending where a major character escapes judgement far too lightly and dilutes any meaning the film might have about father figures. Avery could have dug deeper with this central male relationship because he says it is inspired by a bad influence in his own life. But Son of a Gun is a guilty pleasure rather than a character study. It is trash but at least it is a well-made kind of trash.
Summary: Son of a Gun, the first Australian feature film by Julius Avery, is trashy, sometimes unwatchable due its violence and underwritten in parts but also appropriately visceral, purposely cast and staged with memorable action sequences.