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Son of a Gun

Star power and style adds sheen to another gritty Australian crime offering.
By Sarah Ward
October 20, 2014
By Sarah Ward
October 20, 2014

With a young man immersed in underworld dealings and learning life lessons along the way, there's no mistaking Son of a Gun's fondness for standard crime caper cliches. The film begins with prison hierarchies, navigates a jailbreak and daring heist, and dallies with ruthless Russian mobsters. It also traverses romance and a complicated mentor-protegee relationship, just in case its adherence to formula wasn't apparent.

And yet, in wholeheartedly embracing genre basics, complete with the accompanying twists, Julius Avery's debut focuses on execution and performance over plot and story to exceed the sum of its obvious parts. That's not to say that the movie's narrative isn't engaging; however, it is in its eye for action and its finessed portrayals that Son of a Gun best impresses.

Nineteen-year-old JR (Brenton Thwaites) enters his six-month stay in a maximum-security facility with a warning to keep out of trouble, though the resident bullies have other plans. Veteran inmate Brendan (Ewan McGregor) becomes his saviour, but his help has consequences: JR must return the favour upon his release. Extricating Brendan and his right-hand man (Matt Nable) from prison is the first step. Next, assisting the convicted armed robber in doing what he does best.

Writer/director Avery came to fame courtesy of his 2008 short Jerrycan, a Cannes Film Festival award winner. His first feature has been eagerly awaited since, and in its bright lensing of the Western Australian landscape, moody score from Snowtown and The Babadook's Jed Kurzel, and sustaining of tension, it proves worthy of such anticipation.

Avery shows a knack for set pieces and a mastery of pace and tone that keeps Son of a Gun moving, patching over its lack of surprises and extended length. From the sombre drama of its jail-set opening to the cat-and-mouse chases that follow in helicopter hijackings, car chases, boat rides and stand-offs, the filmmaker crafts a competent, compelling thriller.

Otherwise, casting is the film's biggest strength, from Thwaites' second role in succession as a naive pawn awakening into a position of influence after The Giver, to A Royal Affair's Alicia Vikander as his potential love interest. Of course, it is the star power of McGregor, complementing his usual cheeky grin with a menacing glint in his eye, that rightfully commands attention. Although appearing to play against type, his charming wrongdoer isn't that far removed from his morally dubious breakout role in Trainspotting, complete with his natural accent.

Indeed, McGregor's fate mirrors that of the film, never straying far from the familiar, but doing so with energy and aplomb. Son of a Gun may be another gritty Australian crime offering, but it is also an enthusiastic, expressive and engrossing example of its genre.

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