As a debut feature, Son of a Gun is an ambitious, if not altogether effective, heist drama in which some interesting variations on the theme compensate somewhat for the shortcomings in narrative logic and lack of character development. Directed by Julius Avery and set in Western Australia, Son of a Gun ticks all the boxes as far as crime flicks go. There are double crosses, ethnic crime bosses, car chases, a robbery that doesn’t quite go as planned and, of course, the obligatory sexy seductress whose presence causes all manner of upset within the ranks. Whilst much of what happens is very familiar, it is the heist itself that proves the point of difference between Son of a Gun and other films of this ilk.
The film is structured into three very distinct segments, the first of which begins with JR (Brenton Thwaites) arriving to serve a stretch in a Perth prison. It doesn’t take long before he wheedles his way into the orbit of hardened criminal Brendan (Ewan McGregor) and his hangers-on, such as Sterlo (Matt Nable). Soon enough, JR is released and the next chapter in his life, and the movie, begins. There are some real credibility problems with much of what transpires that extends beyond the suspension of disbelief required in any action film. I mean, even if we accept the elaborate prison break involving a hijacked helicopter, it is pretty hard to accept that, after such an escape, these men are able to move freely around the town with impunity. Why are there not police on every street corner seeking them out? The apparent lack of interest by law enforcement is hard to swallow and actually results in a noticeable lack of tension.
The arrival of Tasha (Alicia Vikander), the requisite stripper/hooker desperate to escape ‘the life’ – into the mix sees JR questioning his loyalties as he succumbs to her feminine wiles. However, there is no obvious chemistry between them and the whole relationship is very unconvincing. Certainly, the chemistry between them – or lack thereof – belies the risks that JR is prepared to take to save them both from the clutches of some dangerous dudes, the most sinister of which is Sam (Jacek Koman), the head honcho of the crime syndicate to whom Brendan is seemingly beholden. However, a distinct lack of characterisation means we learn very little about the various players, their history or their motivations, which makes it hard to care what happens to any of them.
The robbery is what makes the setting such an integral part of the narrative and it is one of the more impressive elements of the film. When things go awry, there is the obligatory shootout and car chase, albeit amidst the dust and dirt of Kalgoorlie rather than the streets of an American metropolis. The way in which they hide the getaway vehicle and transport it out of town is also quite clever, with speedway racing making a rare appearance on the big screen. Once the robbery is out of the way, the third segment of Son of a Gun focusses on JR’s struggle to break free of the controlling Brendan and remove Alicia from Sam’s figurative grasp. It is the final moments of the film that are perhaps the best as double-crosses abound and we are never entirely sure who is going to end up with the bounty.
This is a competent effort that offers some interesting moments within a broader narrative that is otherwise lacking in clarity and logic. Like so many films these days, Son of a Gun looks fabulous, even if that part of Australia isn’t presented as a particularly pleasant place to live. Thwaites is all bug-eyed wonder in what is his first lead role on home soil since graduating from Home and Away to Hollywood, while McGregor (Trainspotting, Moulin Rouge) and Nable (The Final Winter, Around the Block) are suitably grimy and grotesque as the brothers-in-arms who we are expected to accept as having some kind of moral code through their violent banishment of another inmate for being ‘dishonest’. Other familiar faces include Nash Edgerton as the race ace recruited as a getaway driver and Damon Herriman as a paranoid pill popping purveyor of weapons, while Tom Budge plays an utterly ridiculous minion whose presence is irritating beyond belief. A disappointing, but not wholly unsatisfying, tale of criminality, deception and betrayal.