In his debut feature film, writer/director Julius Avery wears his influences on his sleeve. Yet while Son Of A Gun is not the most original film you’ll see this year, it’s still an agreeable enough ride through a heightened version of Western Australia’s criminal underbelly.
When wet-behind-the-ears 19 year old JR (Brenton Thwaites) lands in prison for a short stretch, he looks like sure bet to wind up on the receiving end of some non-consensual buggery. Luckily he attracts the attention and protection of professional criminal Brendan Lynch (Ewan McGregor), who brings the youngster into his inner circle in exchange for a few favours once he hits the streets again. Long story short, JR winds up helping Lynch rob a Kalgoorlie gold mine at the behest of non-specifically foreign criminal bigwig Sam (Jacek Korman), a simple enough job that soon come apart at the seams due to a series of double-crosses. JR and Lynch go on the run, along with Tasha (Alicia Vikander), the stripper who has swapped allegiances from Sam to JR, but how much can they trust each other?
One thing’s for sure: Avery really likes Michael Mann. Heat is a major influence on Son Of A Gun, but the homages go deeper than that – JR’s aspirational collage of things he wants in his life is straight out of Thief. While both …Gun and Heat are about professional bad men doing what they do, the former lacks the latter’s almost tactile sense of authenticity. While you may recognise many of the WA-shot film’s locations, you won’t recognise its story as taking place in a tangibly real world, or its characters as much more than well-drawn but still thin archetypes; scenes meant to evoke pathos almost inevitably fall flat. The exception is former rugby player Matt Nable, who imbues Lynch’s offsider Sterlo with a real sense of humanity and depth with a minimum of fuss.
For all that, when its moving Son Of A Gun really works. Avery has a gift for action, with the centrepiece gold heist and the subsequent car chase being highlights. There’s also a rich vein of gallows humour running through the proceedings – the scene where a thug eats an ice cream while sitting on top of a freezer chest containing a live torture victim comes immediately to mind.
At the end of the day, Son Of A Gun is a solid film – no more but, and it’s worth noting, no less. While it’s not saying anything new with the tropes it employs, it still uses them ably, resulting in a robust, entertaining thriller. All else aside, it demonstrates the sort of polish and professionalism all too often lacking in local product; if you wish our films were more like Hollywood’s, you’ll appreciate this.