Review: Son of a Gun
PLOT: JR (Brenton Thwaites) is a young offender doing a short stint in a supermax prison. After falling prey to a dangerous prison gang, he's offered protection by notorious inmate Brendan Lynch (Ewan McGregor) – with a catch. Upon his release, JR will have to help Brendan escape from prison and carry out a massive heist.
REVIEW: As far as career reinventions go, SON OF A GUN marks an interesting new chapter in Ewan McGregor's big screen career (also this week's Good/Bad/Badass) . While he's maintained his popularity over the years, many still think of the now forty-four-year-old McGregor as the charming, romantic figure of MOULIN ROUGE or as Obi-Wan Kenobi. SON OF A GUN aims to change all that, and could very well help kick off a new “tough guy” phase in McGregor's career. If SON OF A GUN proves anything it's that McGregor is well up to the challenge.
It's really a shame that rough and tough programmers like SON OF A GUN mostly don't get made in the US anymore unless they're micro-budget, DTV or built up with so much prestige that they're considered awards contenders. This clearly isn't going to win any awards but it doesn't seem like that's writer-director Julius Avery's goal. Rather, he's made a rock n' roll heist movie with oodles of attitude and some strong set pieces that bring to mind the kind of modest crime actioners we used to routinely get, where the line between hero and villain is ambiguous and you're allowed to make up your own mind whether a character is sympathetic or not.
Certainly, we're made to feel for the baby-faced Thwaites as he's thrown to the wolves in an Aussie “gladiator-school” type prison. Still, it's made clear that JR is indeed a criminal, and once he holds up his part of the bargain with McGregor's Brendan, he's far from an unwilling accomplice in his bold, violent “big score” which involves ripping off a gold mine. Thwaites is maybe a little too fresh-faced to be taken seriously as a born-criminal, and a romantic subplot involving him and Alicia Vikander feels tacked-on, but his dynamic with McGregor is excellent, and theirs is the relationship that this movie is built on.
McGregor really does feel like an inspired bit of casting, with his trademark boyish smile now taking on a certain malevolence. Sporting a scruffy-beard and some tough guy prison tats, McGregor looks super-cool in the part, but is also admirably restrained throughout, giving the character some ambiguity. For a first-feature (prior to this Avery seems to have focused mostly on shorts) SON OF A GUN is remarkably polished. While likely shot on a conservative budget, the film has an impressive sense of scope, with at least two or three large-scale action scenes that will likely turn Avery into a hot prospect if a copy of this gets into the right hands. The big jail-house breakout is especially impressive, involving a helicopter and a huge arsenal of machine guns while also maintaining some semblance of credibility – not always an easy thing to accomplish in an action movie.
I wouldn't go so far as to say SON OF A GUN is absolutely exceptional, but it's a super-slick thriller and a real treat for action fans looking for something a little more grounded than TAKEN 3. It's getting a fairly low-key release but if this pops up in your local art-house theater or on VOD it's well-worth the money. If you liked other Aussie-thrillers like ANIMAL KINGDOM, WISH YOU WERE HERE or THE SQUARE, this is absolutely a must-see, and a real diamond-in-the-rough for the slow winter months ahead.