In Review: Son of a Gun

by Daniel Goodwin on 29/01/2015


The Australian film industry has seen troubled times in recent years with low box-office numbers for its productions along with fewer international releases and some of the country’s new films bypassing theatres and debuting online. But all that might be about to change. With the recent success of The Babadook (2014) and the upcoming theatrical releases of Simon Pegg’s black comedy Kill Me Three Times and The Turning, an adaptation of renowned writer Tim Winton’s short stories, Australia’s film industry could be seeing something of a revival. In the week of Australia day, this year’s first film from down under to be released in the UK is Son Of A Gun: a gritty and riveting crime drama from director Julius Avery, here making his feature debut.

Over the years, Australia has produced more than a handful of internationally well-regarded cult films despite not having seen mighty box office returns, including the alcohol fuelled odyssey into degradation Wake In Fright (1971) which was only released in the UK after years of being thought lost and was once greatly frowned upon due to its real-life footage of kangaroo slaying. During the 80s there was also The Man From Snowy River (1982) the Mad Max franchise (1979-1985), Dead Calm (1989) and BMX Bandits (1983).

In the 1990s a string of colourful comedies emerged with the likes of Strictly Ballroom (1992), The Adventures of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert (1994) and Muriel’s Wedding (1994) followed by thrillers like Chopper (2000), Wolf Creek (2005) and Animal Kingdom (2010) but aside from the odd critically acclaimed indie, nothing has topped the mighty Crocodile Dundee (1986) in terms of financial success which took a whacking worldwide gross of nearly $330 million almost thirty years ago.

Aussie set action thriller Son of a Gun stars Brenton Thwaites as teen convict JR: a wily but wet behind the ears anti-hero doing time in a penitentiary for a petty crime alongside some of Australia’s hardened criminals. Following several near scrapes with fellow inmates, JR gets taken under the wing of veteran law breaker Brendan Lynch (Ewan McGregor), a long serving resident who offers him protection in return for some favours on the outside once released.

What starts as a restrained, atmospheric drama unravels into a thrilling action, heist movie and modish Michael Mann-like crime caper. As well as merging genre traits Son of a Gun serves a romantic sub-plot involving JR and local crime lord employee Tasha, played by Alicia Vikander. Sub-genre elements blend well for enthralling popcorn cinema, retaining a rational style and edge, but the story and characters are far-fetched compared to the drama, settings and performances.

Son of a Gun is energised by its technical achievements more so than plot plausibility and innovation. The rare combination of compelling drama and action outweigh the fanciful flaws built into a template narrative structure with model plot points, set pieces and spats of Michael Bay style extremity. A subtle, twisted and melancholy score by Jed Kurzel (The Babadook) induces unease in the opening prison set scenes while the plot unravels at an agreeable pace and the drama engrosses as much as entertains, despite at times feeling outlandish.

This debut feature is a strong calling card for Julius Avery who delivers his action with the air of a veteran. Along with The Babadook director Jennifer Kent, Avery may become a name to look out for and a vital component in revitalising the Australian film industry, if he doesn’t get lured into some banal Hollywood franchise. While Son of a Gun might not be a landmark film in terms of substance and innovation it boasts a great deal of talent and is a strong sign of the skill and artistry working in Australia today, which bodes well for the future of its film industry.

Daniel has awarded Son of a Gun four Torches of Truth 

4 torches

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