Son of a Gun (2014)

There have been quite a few good-to-great gritty Aussie crime dramas that have come out the last few years.  Following in the line of The Square (2008), Animal Kingdom (2010), and The Rover (2014), Son of a Gun is a well-told tale of crime from a first time director, Julius Avery, and features an up-and-coming young actor, Brenton Thwaites, and an impressive performance from Ewan McGregor.

The film starts off in prison, where young JR (Thwaites) is arriving for a six month stay for a minor crime.  Quickly, he notices a notorious criminal, armed robber Brendan Lynch (McGregor).  JR comes under the protection and tutelage of Lynch and his crew, on the condition that JR helps Lynch with a task when he is released.  Upon his release, JR gets set up with Lynch’s people on the outside, and ends up helping Lynch and two other men in a jailbreak.  JR gets caught up in the criminal underworld, joining Lynch’s crew on a job.  He also ends up romantically involved with Tasha (Alicia Vikander), a side piece of Lynch’s partner, Sam (Jacek Koman).  JR tries to plan their escape from the life that they seem trapped in while trying to pull of a seven-figure gold heist with Lynch and wondering how long he can trust his surrogate father-figure.

There is a lot to like about this film, McGregor’s performance perhaps standing out the most.  Lynch is a hardened criminal, but with enough nuance and layering from McGregor to make you believe the mentor/protégé-father/son relationship that develops between JR and Lynch, even when all of the evidence is pointing to Lynch just keeping him around to have a fall guy in the end.  He also gets to play some truly menacing quiet moments, with a short fuse that can turn his demeanor on a dime from jovial to threatening.  It’s the kind of role I could envision Ben Mendelson playing.

This is also the best performance yet that I have seen in the short career of Brenton Thwaites, who definitely got his name out there in 2014 with Oculus, Maleficent, and The Giver.  He is believable as the new kid in this world of crime who seems a little over his head, but also somewhat capable.  The way that he manages to ingratiate himself to Lynch in prison (pointing out a potentially costly chess mistake in a match that Lynch is playing) feels flimsy.  And there is a Chekov’s gun plot point involving his inability to swim, but aside from a few small quibbles, the performance and the character work.  Alicia Vikander’s Tasha is also a mostly good performance, that sometimes comes across as stiff, but she does a good job conveying the fear of being trapped that her character feels.  The planning and the execution of the heist is another strength of the film.  It’s impressive and tense and not too big or over the top.

One thing that kept me from completely buying into the movie was the perfect timing of just about every major plot point.  Like most heist films involving criminals who aren’t sure they can completely trust one another, there are plot twists involved here.  The timing of a lot of things, whether a text message or when someone stumbles into overhearing a conversation end up being a bit too convenient.  But while the plot contrivances are a bit noticeable and the outcome a little predictable, the ending still worked for me, mostly because of how much I bought into the dynamic between McGregor and Thwaites.

All told, Son of a Gun is a worthwhile crime drama.  First time writer-director Julius Avery has crafted a heist film that is focused on three characters and their interplay with one another, and surrounded them with gritty and seedy characters and elements.  It may not be the best that this genre or Australian filmmaking has to offer, but is worth checking out for the performance of McGregor, Thwaites, and Vikander.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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