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FELONY – Review

October 29, 2014

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


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Felony opens with a bang: an exciting and effectively shot drug raid. It soon settles into a slow but engaging pace bolstered by its three strong leads and a very interesting premise. The film, initially at least, riffs on its story well. Various subplots mirror the dilemma facing its three main characters, each representing a different point on the moral barometer. The film reflects on its themes by presenting its audience with parallels and scenes to consider.

Joel Edgerton puts in another dependable performance as Mal, a good police officer who has a hard day at the office as he gets shot. His bulletproof vest leaves him with just a bruise but he’s clearly shaken by the experience. After celebrating surviving his deadly encounter, he makes a bad decision, drives home drunk, accidentally hitting a child on a bike. He stops, unsure if it was him at all, calls an ambulance and instinctively leaves the details hazy for the authorities.

Two detectives, Carl (Tom Wilkinson), an older, jaded police officer and Jim (Jai Courtney), his new partner arrive at the scene. Unbeknownst to Jim, Carl decides to cover up the truth and send Mal on his way. Being essentially a good man, Mal spends the rest of the film struggling with guilt as Jim’s suspicions grow and he pursues the truth whilst Carl continues the cover up. The tension-filled first half explores the fallout well as we learn about the characters through their actions.

Tom Wilkinson’s Carl is totally corrupt and unabashedly cuts corners to deliver his own understanding of justice. What makes him interesting is that he claims to be following a moral code and totally justified. He’s not. He covers up the accident to protect Mal, a fellow police officer. He frames a convicted sex offender for another crime because he just knows his suspect is guilty and doesn’t trust the justice system.

Jim, played charismatically by Jai Courtney is a natural detective who is lead only by his strong sense of right and wrong. He can’t help himself in uncovering the truth at whatever the cost which is a perfect foil for Carl. Courtney has a Steve McQueen cool and very much steals the film without looking like he’s trying.

Director Matthew Saville does a god job at capturing a post-Michael Mann modern feel with moments of heightened reality. The film really doesn’t give you a sense of place and other than the Australian accents could have just as easily been set in any modern concrete metropolis. Most of the film is quite flat which works very well with this drama as it gives the audience room to consider the scenes and plot points in relation to each other.

However, Saville does have some impressive flourishes where the audience really goes through the experience with the characters. The opening drug bust and the accident are particularly kinetic. These sequences feel like they are happening in the present as we go through them with Mal each step of the way.

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Beyond the first half though, the film descends from a tight and rather stimulating drama into a pedestrian soap opera that can’t be saved by the performances of its great cast nor strong direction. Edgerton, who wrote the script (and helped produce it), appears to have become restless.

In trying to find a satisfying resolution, he short changes the audience who have patiently sat through the film’s measured pace. A subplot involving Jim developing romantic feelings for Ankhila (Sarah Roberts), the victim’s mother, is particularly pointless and misjudged.

The female characters, despite revealing some surprises, are completely underdeveloped (outside of a good supportive wife here and a grieving but loving mother there). They are given nothing outside of being in relation to the male leads. Melissa George is particularly underused.

Felony could have been special and has some intriguing moments in the first half but due to a lacklustre third act which is far too long, falls dramatically in quality.

Felony is available on VOD and digital download from October 27th

Hamza Mohsin