Julius Avery’s debut feature film Son of a Gun is a mishmash of disparate ideas and influences that borrows heavily from better films while never quite managing to establish an identity of its own. Aside from attractive cinematography and a few exhilarating setpieces, there’s little to distinguish it from a dozen other patchy crime-thrillers.
The film stars Brenton Thwaites as JR, a petty criminal sentenced to six months in prison for a minor crime. When JR finds himself at the mercy of a brutal gang of fellow inmates, he is taken under the protective wing of notorious outlaw Brendan Lynch (Ewan McGregor) and dragged into a new life of guns, gangsters and gold heists.
Son of a Gun feels like a peculiar Aussie hybrid of Michael Mann’s Heat and The Fast and The Furious. Despite the film’s indie aesthetic, there’s an indolence to the storytelling that makes it seem as if Avery is moving down a gangster film hit-list, dispatching one cliché after another. The usual tropes are all here – from the father-son dynamic between a naïve young man and his untrustworthy criminal mentor, to the idea of one last score being carried out to let cons escape from their lives of crime. Throw in a dangerous affair with the boss’s mistress, taciturn Eastern-European hitmen and explosive shootouts with the police, and you’ve got crime-thriller Bingo. The dialogue isn’t any better, with characters trading hackneyed lines like “get with the program” and “you do not bend the rules for a piece of skirt”.
Ewan McGregor’s performance as a modern-day Long John Silver is simultaneously the most original and the least convincing aspect of the film. It’s refreshing to see him play against type and he has nice chemistry with Brenton Thwaites – with most of the film’s humour coming from their antagonistic relationship. However, it’s a bizarre casting choice. While McGregor is always a magnetic screen presence and wisely refuses to adopt a dodgy Australian accent, he simply doesn’t belong in the part of Brendan Lynch and often acts like he’s in a completely different film to his co-stars. He is alternately whimsical and savage, playing serious lines for laughs and delivering corny monologues about the nature of chimpanzees like Robert De Niro in The Untouchables. Perhaps if the entire film had centred on how McGregor’s oddball Scottish criminal had ended up in an Australian prison, it would’ve been far less predictable.
For all of its faults, Son of a Gun is a serviceable crime film that will play best to audiences looking for some unchallenging action thrills. It’s handsomely shot and doesn’t short-change the viewer in terms of bangs for their buck, but it’s far too generic to stand out. A week after viewing the film, you’ll struggle to think of any memorable lines of dialogue or surprising story beats and, McGregor’s performance aside, there isn’t anything here that you haven’t seen many times before.
Son of a Gun is released nationwide on January 16th 2015.