Ryan Corr and Matt Nable power through this familiar but engaging Aussie biker drama.
Revving up the bikie drama genre and ramping up the bloodshed and brutality, 1% is a shiny new ride made from familiar parts. It's ostensibly Australia's big-screen answer to Sons of Anarchy, with that comparison both a curse and a blessing. The two share so much in common narrative-wise that, if you've seen the American TV series, it's impossible not to think about it while you're watching 1%. That said, Stephen McCallum's directorial debut still offers an engaging West Australian-set and -shot take on leather-clad brotherhood — one that never feels like its motoring down a new path, and yet never feels like it's blindly sticking to the expected route either. The story falls firmly into the first camp, but the film's energy falls into the second.
Dwelling in Perth's seedier side, 1% steps into the world of the Copperheads Motorcycle Club. For the past three years, vice president Paddo (Ryan Corr) has overseen the gang with his ambitious girlfriend Katrina (Abbey Lee), trying to steer the club down a legitimate road. He wants to stop the outlaw life and start making cash they're actually able to splash around, but two things threaten to derail his plans. Firstly, his brother Skink (Josh McConville) gets on the wrong side of a rival motorcycle gang, with its leader (Aaron Pedersen) demanding that the two crews start laundering money together — or there'll be deadly consequences. Secondly, Copperheads president Knuck (Matt Nable) is released from prison and, helped by his wife Hayley (Simone Kessell), is quick to throw his weight around.
Both within the club and within WA's broader gangland underbelly, conflict roars louder than a two-wheeled chopper down an open highway. So too does a term that's often bandied about when bikie battles get serious on-screen: Shakespearean. Across its seven seasons, Sons of Anarchy moulded its mayhem in Hamlet's image, throwing in a bit of Macbeth for good measure. Each rears their heads here as well — and while nodding to the Bard can signal that a film or TV series is trying to bulk up otherwise routine material, 1%'s violent clashes, grim power struggles and testosterone-soaked atmosphere all prove suitably tense and tragic.
Also adding bulk is the film's cast, a roster of talent that fires on all cylinders. Bringing depth, nuance and authenticity to characters that might've seemed one-note in the hands of other actors, Corr and Nable are memorable as two leaders striving for the same thing in different ways, while McConville fleshes out Skink to become more than merely a plot device. Lee and Kessell ensure that 1% isn't just a boy's club, even if the idea of scheming women standing behind their men is far from a new one. Indeed, if there's a disappointment in this department, it's a matter of screen time rather than performance. One of Australia's best contemporary talents, Pedersen makes his presence known, however his part falls firmly in the supporting category.
Nable also wrote the script, his second after jumping from playing rugby league to making movies. Perhaps he's the Sons of Anarchy fan? Or perhaps he's simply fond of a genre that has enjoyed plenty of entries, including 1970s Aussie classic Stone. Either way, exploring male-dominated realms has proven his recurrent fascination — whether featuring in front of the camera in Underbelly, Son of a Gun and Hacksaw Ridge, or penning 2007's The Final Winter, which was set in and around a football club. Given visual grit by McCallum, Nable's latest story fits his usual mould, and does enough to leave an impression.
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