The feature debut from Aussie director Julius Avery, Son Of A Gun is sure to elicit comparisons to compatriot David Michod’s 2010 debut, Animal Kingdom – both are brutal crime thrillers interested in conveying hardscrabble realism while obeying genre mechanics. And while Avery’s effort is less sure of its tone, with too many set-pieces and an inchoate love story muddling the second half, it possesses enough swagger to ensure Hollywood will take note.
Starting a six-month penitentiary sentence, 19-year-old J.R. (Brenton Thwaites) is targeted by a gang of inmates, and is only rescued by alpha-con Lynch (Ewan McGregor). But every favour comes with a price, and when J.R. is released he must meet certain people on the outside to orchestrate the daring prison-break rescue of Lynch, who then takes J.R. into his crew to commit ‘one last job’ – a bullion heist.
Starting off mean, streamlined and character-focused, Son Of A Gun’s time in stir is every bit as riveting as David McKenzie’s Starred Up, with rising star Thwaites (Maleficent, Oculus) perfect as the wide-eyed naif and a taciturn McGregor convincing as the tattooed, bearded kingpin. Then arrives a chopper-swooping, bullet-spraying prison break that’s missing only Arnold Schwarzenegger circa 1987, and the movie morphs into an actionthriller replete with Eastern European mobsters, a femme fatale (woman-of-the-moment Alicia Vikander) and at least two too many double-dealings.
The action’s handled well, with real punch, and Vikander does plenty with the little she’s given, but a more interesting and impactful movie is lost along the way. J.R.’s arc from boy to (big) man rings hollow while McGregor loses more than just his whiskers when he shaves off his beard – once on the outside, familiar habits begin to poke through until his chameleonic don’t-even-catch-my-eye hard man becomes Ewan in a muscle vest, doing a slightly odd accent.