Son of a Gun, the stylish and exciting feature debut of filmmaker Julius Avery, who had previously specialized in short films, is a rock solid crime thriller, made with no pretensions, and a work that uses its subtle sense of maximum style to its constant advantage. It doesn’t transcend the genre, but at the same time, it’s energetic and entertaining at almost every turn, and despite a possibly too neat resolution, Avery offers up some crackling action sequences, and gets a refreshingly against type performance from Ewan McGregor. There’s also a central heist that’s unique in idea and execution, and it’s something that I’ve never seen before, which is always a welcome plus in my movie watching book. An amalgam of the prison picture, the escape movie, the heist thriller, and all out action flick, the film is a lower-budgeted item from Australia, released in the states by A24, and has found its way to the Blu-ray shelves after barely making a blip on the theatrical radar.
Co-starring rising star Brenton Thwaites (previously very strong in the underrated sci-fi effort The Signal), Son of a Gun centers on a young prison inmate (Thwaites) serving a six month sentence for a minor crime, who is taken under the wing of a notorious and violent criminal (McGregor), who offers to protect the youngster while in the joint if he agrees to help him upon his release. But little does the naïve gangster-in-training know that the plan is fairly large, involving a daring prison break via helicopter and then the risky robbery of a gold making facility, where McGregor, Thwaites, and the rest of their team force smelters to create gold bars on the spot at gun point, so that they can then sell the gold all around the city. Once the plot is set in motion, the film becomes all about the interaction between Thwaites and McGregor, and how their uneasy friendship gets pushed to its limits.
Not much goes according to plan, a rival mobster enters the plot, a mysterious and sexy woman shows up on the scene (Alicia Vikander, pre Ex-Machina), and before you know it, loyalties are tested, sparks fly between Thwaites and Vikander, bullets are fired from various automatic weapons, and a couple of cars do some fantastic, un-CGI’d flips and roll-overs. Shot with clarity and an excellent sense of formal composition by cinematographer Nigel Bluck, Son of a Gun looks terrific all throughout and Bluck’s effective shot selection offers up unique angles during the action sequences, while also feeling intimate during the slower, more dramatic moments between the characters. Swiftly paced and featuring durable performances by an interesting mix of familiar faces and complete unknowns, Son of a Gun is a crime picture for genre enthusiasts. It does what it sets out to do with smarts and unassuming aesthetic flair, and will likely serve as a calling card for filmmaker Avery, who I imagine is taking meetings all over town by this point.