Locked up in prison, JR (Brenton Thwaites) has not yet learned the rule to stay out of other peoples’ business. Targeted by a gang of violent inmates, JR finds himself under the protection of one of Australia’s most notorious criminals; Brendan Lynch (Ewan McGregor). Protection comes at a price, however, and when JR is released from prison, his debt is called in.
Short film director Julius Avery’s feature debut is surprisingly old fashioned in a way; prison break, gold heist and double crosses are classic tropes of thriller cinema, and Avery has pulled out all the stops here. Brenton Thwaites follows up last year’s Oculus with a strong performance as JR. Thwaites captures the innocence and cynicism of a man who finds himself in prison at a young age, but still dreams of a better life in the future. Thwaites is the emotional heart of the film, and he gets audiences on his side, with his portrayal of a young man who finds himself in over his head, and desperate to survive.
Ewan McGregor has built a reputation playing nice guys – and Jedi – over the years, so it is a refreshing change for him to not only take a supporting role, but to take on a character with few scruples and even fewer loyalties. McGregor still has his trademark twinkle in his eye, but through a strong performance as a thoroughly unpleasant character, this twinkle is less about charm, and more reminiscent of a snake about to strike. Alicia Vikander, in her third cinema release in as many weeks, carries on her reputation as an actress to watch, and makes Tasha pragmatic and practical, yet somehow still hopeful and charming.
The story, written by John Collee and director Julius Avery feels rather familiar. In the last few years, we have had crime films such as Snowtown and Animal Kingdom emerge from Australia, and Son of a Gun perpetuates the idea that the land down under is home to violent criminals. There are precious few surprises throughout the film, certainly until the final act, but this crime thriller is filled with glamour and violence, and is more than enough to keep the audience’s attention.
As director, Julius Avery allows the tension to ebb and flow throughout the film, while making the heist scenes and set pieces to be tense and brutal. As mentioned, there is a feeling of familiarity to the whole affair, but Avery manages to keep audience attention, even if we feel we have seen this before somewhere. Nigel Buck’s cinematography also adds to the feelings of isolation and far in the film, and ramps up the tension on the set pieces.
In all, Son of a Gun is a moderately clever crime thriller, dogged by the feeling that we have seen this all before. McGregor and Thwaites form a strong duo at the centre of the film and, although Vikander is slightly wasted by being pushed to the side, her performance is as strong as we might expect.