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Son of a Gun

aka Guns & Gold

D: Julius Avery / 108m

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Brenton Thwaites, Alicia Vikander, Matt Nable, Jacek Koman, Tom Budge, Eddie Baroo, Nash Edgerton

Sent to prison for a minor crime, JR (Thwaites) soon learns that being “connected” is the only way to survive.  Through a shared interest in chess, JR is taken under the wing of notorious bank robber Brendan Lynch (McGregor).  When JR is threatened by another inmate, Lynch and his accomplices, Sterlo (Nable) and Merv (Baroo), step in and save him.  Owing his life to Lynch, JR finds himself part of the robber’s plan to attempt a breakout.  When JR is released some months later he goes to see Lynch’s associate, Sam (Koman).  Set up in a beautiful beachfront home, JR meets Tasha (Vikander), a hostess in one of Sam’s clubs; she acts as a go-between JR and Sam, and he quickly becomes smitten with her.  Despite his attempts to get to know her better, Tasha remains at a distance from him.

After some weeks of waiting, JR is finally given the details of the breakout.  He hijacks a helicopter and uses it to effect a daring “rescue”.  Once on the outside, Lynch is soon offered the chance to carry out a gold heist, not from a bank but from the smelting plant where gold ingots are made.  Lynch agrees to take part in Sam’s plan (along with JR and Sterlo), and while the details of the heist are worked out, JR finds himself making some head way with Tasha, and a romance between them begins to emerge.  With the heist about to go ahead, Lynch is forced to take along Sam’s unstable son, Josh (Budge).  Josh proves to be the liability Lynch thought he would be when he shoots one of the plant workers.  A faster response by the police adds to their problems and their getaway is complicated by Sterlo’s being shot.  They manage to rendezvous with Sam and they hand over the gold for him to sell and give them their cut later.

Sam, however, double crosses them, especially as he’s discovered that Tasha and JR are planning to go away together once JR receives his money from the heist.  With Tasha in tow, JR and Lynch lay low while avoiding both the police and Sam’s men.  Lynch comes up with a plan to get the gold back and take his revenge on Sam, but as JR becomes increasingly concerned about Lynch’s reliability, he realises he needs his own plan if he and Tasha are to have the future they’ve been planning.

Son of a Gun - scene

Aussie crime dramas seem to be coming thick and fast at the moment, and while home audiences appear to be less than enthralled – Son of a Gun has proven a modest success Down Under – Avery’s feature debut has much to recommend it, despite being rough around the edges.  It’s sharpest in its opening twenty minutes, with JR finding his feet in prison and a mentor in Lynch.  There’s a palpable sense of menace in these scenes, both from Lynch and from the inmate who’s threatening JR and while the outcome is never in doubt, Avery uses some clever framing to add to the tension.

Once on the outside, the movie switches from intense prison drama to heist thriller and ups the pace, giving McGregor a chance to show Lynch’s more deceptive, amoral nature, and Thwaites the opportunity to make JR more self-confident and less of a bystander.  Avery use this section of the movie to more clearly define the characters but it has the effect of making the movie’s ensuing twists more easy to predict.  This doesn’t mean that Son of a Gun is any less engaging, but it does make it more of a movie where the viewer can tick off in advance each ensuing incident with complete confidence.

That said, Avery does obtain a trio of substantial performances from his lead actors, with Vikander making an impact as the pessimistic, emotionally withdrawn Tasha.  McGregor has the harder task, Lynch’s hardened attitude belying a softer, more considerate side to the character.  McGregor makes this dichotomy work though (and where some other actors might not have), and puts in one of his freshest performances for quite some time.  As the initially naïve JR, Thwaites turns in a performance that cements his position as a rising star, and has the viewer rooting for JR from the outset.

While Son of a Gun may not be completely satisfying – the prison breakout betrays the scene’s budgetary limitations, the movie’s denouement isn’t entirely convincing, some of the minor characters conform to genre stereotypes a little too much – there’s more than enough to hold the viewer’s attention and reward them at the same time.  The natural beauty of Western Australia is dialled down to reflect the cheerless nature of events, and there’s an emphasis on the casual brutality that sees several characters removed from the story without a backward glance.  Avery shows an intelligent awareness of where to place the camera, and he keeps scenes moving fluidly throughout, aided by some equally astute editing by Jack Hutchings.  A word too for the score by Jed Kurzel, that skilfully weaves genre motifs with a more propulsive approach and which complements the movie without becoming overbearing.

Rating: 8/10 – leaving aside some problems caused by the low budget, Son of a Gun is a largely impressive feature debut by Avery, and bodes well for future projects; coarse,  violent, and unexpectedly poignant in places, this is well played out and another welcome addition to the list of worthwhile Aussie crime dramas.