WRITTEN REVIEW – Son of a Gun (2015)
Son of a Gun
Directed by: Julius Avery
Written by: Julius Avery
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Brenton Thwaites & Alicia Vikander
Music: Jed Kurzel
Release Date: January 30th 2015
Gritty Australian Action Crime Movie aren’t words usually tossed around often when it comes to films purveying cinema screens in the UK. Coming from indie filmmaker Julius Avery making his feature length directorial debut after his splash at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008 with ‘Jerrycan‘ hopes to burst onto the scene with ‘Son of a Gun‘, with Brenton Thwaites, Alicia Vikander along with Ewan McGregor portraying a hardened criminal attempting a gold heist. Does this relatively untested director prevail?
‘Son of a Gun‘ follows 19 year old JR (Thwaites) who winds up in prison for 6 months for an undisclosed crime. When there, he’s given protection by Brendan Lynch (McGregor) who has been given 20 years for robbery but in return, JR must break him out once he attains his freedom. After a successful, elaborate mission JR and Lynch have the opportunity for one last big score before retiring for good; literally stealing from a gold mine. But JR falls for a crime bosses call girl, Tasha (Vikander) and plans to run away with her if the score works out.
‘Son of a Gun‘ is made up of seperate segments, loosely connected by the three lead characters and all of which can easily be feature length films in their own right – a common trope from first time directors who make their debut with a glorified showreel. The opening 10-15 minutes take place in an Australian prison and the movie doesn’t shy away from any of the gruesome elements. It’s an effective cold-open but we only spend a few days in there and get an abrupt “6 months later” time-jump with no idea what events or character changes took place in the meantime.
Speaking of character, while Brenton Thwaites does the best he can with the material, he’s given such a bland character to work with. JK isn’t a very interesting or dynamic lead character. Other than blind loyalty, he’s given no reason to do what Brendan says once he gets out of prison other than the fact that the plot requires him to. Insight like that would allow the audience to understand the type of person he is, but other than the fact that he’s a hopeless romantic and can’t swim, we don’t learn much about him. In fact, it’s hard to tell if Brenton Thwaites is a good actor if this is your only performance as a reference point because he’s given so little material. This is a huge problem because when the movie isn’t coordinating its heist sequences it’s spending time with JK and Tasha’s romance.
Unfortunately, this romance between the two is dead on arrival. I understand that it’s meant to be akin to a Romeo & Juliet story in that these two haven’t experienced these emotions before so they let it get the better of them, but the two just aren’t a compelling on-screen couple. And Alicia Vikander, who has been on a fire this past month with ‘The Testament of Youth‘, ‘Ex Machina‘ and now ‘Son of a Gun‘, is good but she has a severely underwritten role with a Cinderella complex. Early on in the movie, Brendan describes Tasha as “A piece of skirt” and while JK tries to convince him that she’s more than that, on a screenplay and narrative level, that’s really all she is. It’s a shame and a waste of Vikander’s talents.
The real stand out of ‘Son of a Gun‘, unsurprisingly, is Ewan McGregor as Brendan and it’s mostly because of unconventional casting. The Scottish actor, pulling off a very convincing Australian accent, is mostly well known in the mainstream for subdued, dignified characters such as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the ‘Star Wars‘ prequels or hopeless romantics such as Christian in ‘Moulin-Rouge!‘ and Martland in ‘Mortdecai‘. But here, Brendan is a brute and a criminal genius, able to break his way out of a Australian prison almost effortlessly and also a sophisticated chess player (a character trait which, if we’re being completely honest here, only exists for heavy-handed symbolism). Ewan is an intimidating on-screen presence, sporting badass facial hair and is very convincing as an action star.
Honestly, if it wasn’t for McGregor’s prior filmography, there wouldn’t be much attention lauded on him here, but it just shows how versatile he can be. It also helps that compared to the lacklustre supporting characters around him, he shines much brighter then he normally would.
The heist sequences in this movie are the main reason to pay attention to it as they’re very well staged and thought out. Wracked with tension, these scenes utilise great practical stunts, well-shot car chases and a prepencity towards realistic action. The guns have real impact, the blood is very well done and even the extras involved in these sequences are very convincing.
It’s just a shame that there are only a handful of these sequences as the movie seems far more interested in the main characters’ drama and with the exception of Brendan, none of them are worth getting invested in. Towards the end when people are betraying each other and double-crosses are abound, it becomes difficult to follow because character motivations are so poorly defined. This is exacerbated by the fact that ‘Son of a Gun‘ seems to change genres from scene to scene, once again showcasing Julius Avery intention (seemingly) to make a showreel as opposed to a movie with cohesion.
‘Son of a Gun‘ shows potential and Julius Avery demonstrates skill behind the camera when crafting set-pieces. But with main characters you simply don’t care about as well as the constant need for them to wax pseudo-intellectually at almost every opportunity, ‘Son of a Gun‘ is often unengaging. It really wants us to care about the romance between JK and Tasha, but there’s a time and a place for a story like that and ‘Son of a Gun‘ does little to justify its placement. The film manages to stay together thanks to a strong performance by Ewan McGregor and good production values, particularly some inspired shots of the Australian landscape but if Avery had picked one of the dozen movies he’s attempting to cram into the screenplay, we could have had something memorable. But, ultimately, ‘Son of a Gun’ is too scatter-shot to truly work.
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Posted: 8th Feb 15