Sunday, 12 April 2015

Film Review: Felony (2013)


© Roadshow Films  |  Source: We Got This Covered

Australia, USA; 105 min.; crime, cop drama, detective, thriller
Director: Matthew Saville
Writing: Joel Edgerton
Cinematography: Mark Wareham
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Tom Wilkinson, Jai Courtney, Melissa George, Sarah Roberts

“See, we’re in a band, right? Like a musical band. Can you imagine that? And when somebody in the band writes a song, like it or hate it, we fucking sing it. And if someone in the band happens to write a fucking shitty song that nobody likes, we keep our opinions to ourselves, and we sing it anyway.”  -- Carl Summer 

Everything about Felony says 'Hey, I'm your run-off-the-mill cop drama.' I mean, the whole thing's called Felony, for Pete's sake. So what I expected were corrupt policemen, blatant moral dilemmas, a useless love story in between and, since the film poster indicated a men-driven run-off-the-mill cop drama, female characters that, well, sucked. In the end, I kind of got all that, but also a tad more, which turned Felony into quite a pleasant viewing experience after all.

The film is mostly an Australian production and based on the second feature-length screenplay written by Joel Edgerton. Since I have a thing for everything Aussie, and Edgerton is one of my favourite actors working today, I had to give the whole thing a try. The story sounds rather basic on paper: When respected Sidney detective Mal (Joel Edgerton) causes a young immigrant boy to fall into a coma after having hit him with his car, old friend and fellow detective Carl (Tom Wilkinson) does not hesitate to cover up Mal's DUI crime. Carl's colleague, young and idealist Jim (Jai Courtney), however, makes it his mission to bring the person responsible for the accident to justice, and Mal looks very suspicious to him.

Yeah, I know. Pretty run-off-the-mill, right? But, I guess, it's director Matthew Saville's quiet and simplistic mise-en-scène and the complexity of the characters that draws me into the whole thing. There's no action-packed showdown, no thrilling chases, no explosions or blazes of gunfire. The main characters aren't all blatantly good or all blatantly bad. They're refreshingly human in a film that, in general, focuses more on a realistic approach rather than on cheap thrills. The result is a quiet, complex and rather effective tale of moral struggle.

The performances are noteworthy. Edgerton shines with subtle regret, and has us see how guilt is slowly eating away at him without ever appearing melodramatic or over-the-top. Wilkinson has the tendency to become a scene stealer in many of his films. This one is no exception. His Carl is funny, stubborn, sneaky and old-school, walking on a thin line between likability and aversion. His speeches on morality are delivered with ease and don't seem like mere lines read from a script. Courtney, in a role far off all the action flick characters Hollywood usually bestows on him, delivers a solid performance as a naive start-up detective who judges everything through a black-and-white lens.

So, what's with the ladies then? In this story of male dilemma, there's hardly any room for them. Mal's wife, played by Melissa George, is caring for and protective of her family, and not much else. Ankhila, the comatose boy's mother, played by Sarah Roberts, appears fragile and helpless when really I want her to be a lioness ready to fight for justice for her child. But, no, the women in this film are merely designed to serve as vehicles for the men's character development. Mal's struggle is fuelled by thoughts of his lovely family, Jim's drive to do the right thing is supported by his amorous feelings for Ankhila – there you have this film's useless love story, by the way. So, yes, the female characters are a sore sight. It really annoys me that Edgerton didn’t manage to muster up some better writing in this case.

Felony convinces with ambiguous main characters. Additionally, it has a realist feel to it, which makes it stand out among the company of other cop films, and the three leading men deliver fitting performances. It is the all too stereotypical use of female characters as well as a couple of forced, heavy-handed  plot twists towards the end of the film which make me enjoy it a little less than I actually could have. Still, I won't give up hoping that, next time, Edgerton will indeed write better. 


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