Director: Matthew Saville
Stars: Joel Edgerton, Jai Courtney, Tom Wilkinson, Melissa George
First viewing, via Stan
Joel Edgerton, on top of being a sturdy actor in local and international fare ranging from Animal Kingdom to the Star Wars prequels, has emerged as one hell of a writer in recent years. He co-wrote the contemporary noir gem The Square, co-conceived the post-apocalyptic road thriller The Rover, and scripted this fine cut of moral quandary, Felony.
Edgerton headlines Felony as Malcolm Toohey, a police detective on the cusp of decimating an organised crime ring. When driving home after a long evening of festive boozing, he accidentally hits a young boy on a bicycle. He calls 000 (Australia’s 911 for overseas readers) but tells them he only found the injured child lying on the road. Veteran detective Carl Summer (Tom Wilkinson) discreetly helps Toohey bluff his way through the scene, but Summer’s young partner Jim Melic (Jai Courtney) senses something rotten in Denmark and investigates.
I remember an episode of the Australian roundtable show The Panel many years ago that brought up the glut of locally produced police and hospital shows populating Australian television at the time, and someone cracked a joke about the next logical step being a show called Cops and Doctors. While this trend was mainly relegated to television (see Police Rescue, Blue Murder, Wildside, Water Rats, Stingers, All Saints, Young Lions, Blue Heelers, and The Flying Doctors, to name just a few) rather than film, this does explain in a roundabout way why Felony – which features both cops and a number of scenes in a hospital – feels somewhat more familiar than those other electric Edgerton-scripted films mentioned above.
Despite this, Felony shares a number of key qualities with both The Square and The Rover: a single crime (arson in The Square, car theft in The Rover, and this film’s titular felony) that triggers the events that follow; a slow burning escalation of the dramatic stakes and a mounting sense of dread; earthbound thrills in recognisable, authentic environments; and a Larry Cohen-esque aptitude for squeezing from a neat concept its various narrative and cinematic possibilities.
Director Matthew Saville, an award-winning director with some quality television and film credits (Noise, The Slap, Cloudstreet), also squeezes a great performance out of Jai Courtney. Courtney’s had the misfortune of starring in some lousy American waste produce, including the mediocre sequels A Good Day to Die Hard and Terminator: Genisys (where the buff star was severely miscast as the intense, wiry time-traveler Kyle Reese, a role originated by Michael Biehn in The Terminator) and the Frankensteinian monster that is I, Frankenstein. In doing so, he’s become a cover boy for generic, bland white leading men in generic, bland white blockbuster films. But he’s done solid work as a utility player in smaller flicks like The Water Diviner, and he’s great here. Courtney’s imposing size and innate awkwardness are a good fit for Melic, and his surface blandness and shininess are harnessed and subverted nicely as the film progresses and the character, outwardly ambitious and idealistic, betrays some wrinkles of weirdness and delusion. Edgerton is likewise good as a cop forced by circumstance to violate his moral code, Melissa George does nice work as his conflicted wife, and Wilkinson, as he’s done on a number of occasions, burnishes his damaged authority figure with rumpled integrity and pathos.
Summary: Felony‘s not as bold or daring as some other Edgerton-scripted joints, but it’s a polished procedural with strong performances. A solid exhale on the breathalyzer…
Next week: That Scottish-Australian classic Macbeth (2006)