Thursday, 16 June 2016

Felony (2014) - Movie Review

After looking through the last remnants of Sarah Snook’s filmography (that fall under my purview, at least), it seems that this uncharacteristically patriotic stint hasn’t left me just yet. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at another Aussie talent who has a permanent fixing on my radar: Joel Edgerton. Since The Gift is still well and truly ingrained in my memory, and with the finale that film contained it’s unlikely to leave me at any point ever, I figure I’d go back and look into something else that had Edgerton attached behind the scenes. This also means that we’ll be checking in with another regular target in these parts, only for far less positive reasons: Jai Courtney. Between the two of them, this film could go either way, so let’s just hold off on the scepticism for once (stop laughing) and dive right in.

The plot: While driving home from the pub, detective Mal (Joel Edgerton) hits a young boy on a bike with his car. In light of his recent bust of a drug lab in the area, it seems that the police are more than willing to cover up the incident for him. However, rookie cop Mellic (Jai Courtney) suspects that something is amiss, while his older partner Carl (Tom Wilkinson) insists that he leave it alone.

Oh, Jai Courtney; I’ve been following your career with great interest, seeing as how you’ve been in roughly one and a half good films out of the twelve you’ve been involved in since 2012. I might not have given this impression properly during the numerous times I’ve brought him up in the past, but I have no issue with the man as an actor. He has a habit of picking truly dreadful scripts, but that doesn’t equate to him half-arsing it on screen. As the white knight cop of the film, Jai is actually really good. It’s mostly him working opposite the rest of the cast and he does a great job of being a contrast for the other policemen on the force.

Edgerton is a little stilted in a few scenes, but otherwise he makes a valiant effort with how increasingly conflicted his character becomes throughout the course of the story. But without a doubt, the star of the show here is Wilkinson. Not only does he pull off the Aussie vernacular with remarkable ease, solidifying him as a go-to accent actor between this and Selma, but he wraps serious intensity around every piece of dialogue he’s given. Even when it doesn’t exactly make real-world sense, like his band analogy during a heated confrontation with Melic, Wilkinson makes it sound like solid gold on-screen. Then again, the man has a habit of being the saving throw even in some particular bad films like Unfinished Business and The Choice.

This is a particularly heated topic to base a film on, that being favouritism amongst police officers. It is also a topic that is hardly new for crime flicks, but this is where Edgerton’s strength as a writer comes in. Now, as much as I like what I’ve seen of the man’s work, he has a habit of being rather derivative. Whether it’s the sins of the past domestic thriller that was The Gift or the Coen-esque approach to film noir with The Square, I wouldn’t call him the most original writer working today. However, do not mistake that for me saying that he is bad by any stretch of the imagination. It’s here that his real strength as a writer comes through: We may have already what he’s dishing out, but he sure knows how to make it interesting. With the relatively small main cast, consisting mainly of Courtney, Edgerton and Wilkinson along with Melissa George as Mal’s wife and Sarah Roberts as the mother of the child Mal hit, it was imperative that these characters were nailed down in terms of fleshing out and Edgerton certainly did that. Mal isn’t made out to be a monster for what he did, nor for the actions that he willingly takes part in to cover up his role in it. Instead, he’s shown to be someone who genuinely wants to do the right thing, but also is a little too willing to be a team player, especially when the leader of said team is someone like Carl.

And speaking of Carl, it seems that they paired who is probably the best actor in the cast with the best realized character in the script. Carl starts out the standard rugged “I’m getting too old for this shit” older cop, but makes a point of showing that he knows what he’s doing... for the most part. Yeah, he may get into the pineapple juice on the job but his opening scene where he confronts the girlfriend of a paedophile he’s chasing down portrays his efficiency on the job well. As the story unfolds, his role in the cover-up is made more clear and the obvious revelation ends up being obfuscated by the character’s reasoning behind it. From how he talks to not only Mal but also Mellic when he’s trying to throw him off the trail, we can see that he has become very good at convincing people to see things a certain way. Judging by how he tries to justify himself when Mal mentions wanting to come clean, it seems that he also did a good job of convincing himself that what he’s doing is the right thing. Well, not so much the right thing as much as a necessary evil to make sure that a valuable officer doesn’t go to jail and become unable to help take down the “real criminals”. Also, kind of interesting how he obsessively chases down someone who harms children, but is still willing to help cover-up when Mal ends up hurting a child. Hypocrisy or distinguishing who’s doing more harm overall (in his mind, at the very least)? The fact that that statement ends in a question mark is proof enough of the refreshing amounts of depth that was put into the characters here.

I don’t think there will ever be a time in our history where questioning the priorities of the police of any given region won’t be a timely issue. Hell, last month, I couldn’t even look at police officers in the eye given the stupid Running Man Challenge BS that was going on at the time (or that may still be going on; honestly, I'm just doing my best to ignore the fucking thing). Let it be known that my boundless cynicism goes beyond fictional products, and could potentially have me arrested one of these days. Moving swiftly on, while the topic itself has never had a point where it wasn’t being brought up, credit again where it’s due in that this film presents it in an interesting and rather thought-provoking way.

While it deals with the moralities of the people involved in the cover-up, it also delves into the systemic mindset that goes into how much these officers are willing to look out for each other. Much like racism, and yes these two unfortunately cross over somewhat both in the real world and in the film itself, it isn’t as simple as just being the acts of people in the here and now. This is something that gets passed on as tradition, shown here by how the elder policeman is willing to pull all these strings while the fresh up-and-comer wants to get to the bottom of it. And between the both of them is Mal, who ends up reaching his breaking point by the film’s climax, resulting in not only a heart-breaking bit of emotional outpouring from Edgerton in his best acting moment of the film but also yet another ambiguous ending. Yeah, ambiguous endings and jump scares involving dogs seem to be this guy’s trademarks. With this ending, it creates the kind of “So, where do we go from here?” questioning that I really dug about Tomorrowland’s ending, only this one is a lot more cautious and a lot less optimistic.

All in all, even considering the been-there-done-that plot elements, this is still an incredible watch. The acting shows everyone at their A-game, which given the muddled filmographies of the main cast makes this seem like the ultimate convincer to give everyone involved more work, the writing takes its time to treat the subject matter with the salience that it deserves while also creating full-bodied characters to work through it, and the direction is frankly surprising. I say surprising because Matthew Saville is primarily known for work on comedic television like Big Bite and We Can Be Heroes, and yet you wouldn’t guess that from how gritty this film turned out. What is it with Edgerton and getting people primarily known for more light-hearted work to embrace their darker sides? I reiterate: Keep going, Joel; we need more product like this.

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