Here is a film that has okay written all over it. It has some really good moments either in set-ups or writing but then dragged out scenes or longing looks fed in too often make it actually quite laughable, sadly, as it had the potential to be a smart and gritty heist movie.
Arrested and locked up in an Australian prison, 19 year old lad JR (Brenton Thwaites) gets himself under the eye and interest of notorious inmate Brendan Lynch (Ewan McGregor). JR’s six month time comes around and a plan concocted by Lynch and others leads him to help them escape and attempt a gold heist but double crosses could put obstacles in the path.
The story by Julius Avery is sometimes smart and slick and then long winded, unintentionally daft and makes no sense. The fact that this is also Avery’s first full length feature as director is clear, certain moments or lines that could easily have been cut still last and make the film feel unnecessarily long. Alongside neat robbery break ins or shady deals there’s repeated drivel relating to metaphors of monkeys and chess. Now the chess thing is actually alright at times and the last stretch of the movie utilises this over-used idea to an advantage but the whole monkey iconography and discussions are pretty pointless and feel forced to give the film depth that it never attains.
There are honestly some surreal moments in this film, it shifts gears like a mad second hand car haunted by a skittish Herbie. The grey grit of jail and dodgy criminals is one stroke and is nicely played out too but then soft romantic styled warbling play over chess scribbles, beach reunions and train sex feeling totally out of place and jarring. Longing looks at slow-mo kids in parks or spinning washing machines slow the pace dramatically and do nothing much to make the film more interesting or poetic.
Jed Kurzel’s score is one of the stronger aspects of this film, tense bubbling music elevating the dramatic air of the prison environment. The choice to feed in pumping rave music and dance tunes work for their designated scenes, from a drug fest trailer to neon lit strip clubs. At least the score keeps scenes ticking over nicely and on the whole it suits the entire movie.
Keeping with the better points of this movie, which is harder to think of annoyingly, I’ll comment on the nice dread it maintains. The makeshift father figure that Brendan becomes is nicely opposed with the fearful notion that you expect him to change motives against JR at any time. Whether he does or not, I won’t say but the idea of double crosses and triple crosses run their courses well and stick as better parts of the story.
Brenton Thwaites is a believable innocent looking young guy, left with a horrendous ‘tache though, looking like the older version of Mason from ‘Boyhood’. You do root for him more than any other character. Ewan McGregor is back after seeming to have been gone for ages, the role is certainly something different for him and he plays the see-sawing character to a good level. Alicia Vikander is having a busy 2015 and comes into the film as magnetic Tasha, her deep eyes and strong performance making you wish her to escape the underground world she’s trapped in, though a lot of the characters in this are paper thin drawn.
There’s not much to like here and apart from a few spots of clever crime or tension, the story ultimately fails to excite or provide something new considering it’s coming from Australia and not Hollywood. Maybe Julius Avery would have had better luck crafting ‘Son of a Gun’ as a short because as a full length picture it fires a blank.