When the realities of prison existence smack young offender JR in the face, he is relived when someone with a serious street cred steps in to help him out. He knows nothing in this life is free, but JR couldn’t even begin to imagine how much his safety will cost him. Son of a Gun is reviewed after the jump.
19 year-old JR (Brenton Thwaites) is a rookie criminal who has just landed himself a 6 month stint in a Western Australian maximum security prison. JR is scrawny and doesn’t have any connections, making him the perfect target for a thuggish group of prisoners looking for their next victim. Veteran criminal (and a man with influence on the inside and out) Brendan Lynch (Ewan McGregor) steps in and saves JR, but of course this comes at a cost. JR quickly finds himself sucked into Brendan’s world, one which has as much danger as allure, particularly when the allure comes in the form of the big boss’s girl (Tash, Alicia Vikander).
Shot on location in Western Australia and Melbourne, Son of a Gun is an outlaw road trip film with a uniquely Australian feel. There’s no mistaking the dry locations as anywhere other than the outback, and it lends itself to the dirty, roughness of the film. It’s unforgiving, brutal nature is something which is reflected in Brendan and his expectations of JR. While there is somewhat of a mentor-mentee relationship between the two, there is no doubting the trouble JR is in if he stuffs up. Cinematography is a highlight of Son of a Gun and Nigel Bluck has made the most of the location, particularly in the way the scenes in and around Kalgoorlie and the gold mines are shot. There’s a couple of heart-pumping case scenes, with Nash Edgerton taking the driver’s seat in high-octane, off-road sequence, which is a high point in the film.
The introduction of Tash adds a mildly interesting, but unneeded element to the film. With her we get to see JR’s softer side, however their shared scenes are among the weakest points of the film. The gangster-owned foreign woman is something we’ve seen many times before and it wasn’t particularly compelling here. The film is definitely at its strongest when it sticks to the relationship between Brendan and JR. McGregor playing bad is something quite wonderful. He’s as captivating and charismatic as ever, but there’s an evil undertone to every look and every word. Thwaites holds his own with the veteran actor, giving JR a good balance of vulnerability and determination.
Writer-director Julius Avery has already been recognised both locally and internationally for his short film Jerrycan, and with Son of a Gun (his first feature-length film) he has marked himself as someone to watch. I’m always interested in stories which make use of a location’s unique features and that’s something Avery has excelled at with this film.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Julius Avery
Writer(s): Julius Avery
Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Ewan McGregor, Alicia Vikander, Nash Edgerton
Runtime: 108 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: October 16th 2014