Cloudstreet director Matthew Saville brings an honest, raw approach to Aussie crime drama Felony, illustrating the script by writer, producer and lead actor Joel Edgerton with flair and enough restraint to keep the film grounded in it’s tactile web of emotional quandary and brutal honesty. Opting for the quieter approach to the slow-burning thriller, the film plays deftly with it’s superb cast and arrives at a conclusion that is as memorable as it is logical.
Edgerton plays the character of Malcolm Toohey (Mal), our lead who is wounded by a bullet in a drug bust in the opening scene of Felony. Celebrated for his heroic approach to the bust as well as his survival, an intoxicated Mal drives home from the standard Aussie pub, alone in his thoughts until he is stopped by a random breath test. Here is where the sequence of events spins out of control and we are suddenly brought to the very real occurrence of the dangers which surround the ‘Blue Shield’ lack of zeal often found in organisations like the police force. Mal unwittingly hits a small child with his car, looking back as the young boy falls of his bicycle and hits his head on the road. Panicked, Mal calls emergency services but lies about the accident, leaving out his involvement while Edgerton, quite beautifully, portrays a panicked, nervous man in two minds about lying and coming clean.
We are then further introduced to the film’s two other main players, senior cop Carl Summer (Tom Wilkinson) and his young partner Jim Melic (Jai Courtney) who stand for different sides of the scale. Summer is a seasoned veteran of the police force; respected and so desensitised to police work that he constantly cuts corners just to expedite results. On the other hand, Melic is looking at the police force with relatively fresh eyes, and so police work ‘by the book’ seems to mean much more to him. It is this dichotomy which represents the inner struggle going on inside Mal, thickening the plot by having Summer work with Mal in covering up what really happened while Melic suspects what is the actual truth.
Melic’s constant insistence that proper protocol be followed, while Summer dodges him every step of the way, gives way for much tension throughout the film, and even though Melic and Mal don’t interact near enough as they should given the situation, things follow a pretty engaging pace as the small child’s mother, Ankhila (Sarah Roberts) and Mal’s wife (Melissa George) enter into the story. These two female characters are none the wiser the bigger politics at play, representing the reaction to what really matters at the end of the day – the health of the child.
Melic is compromised himself, which adds an extra layer to the film; and while his inappropriateness is far more forgiving, the incidence of no clean cut characters eliminates the black and white situation the film slightly edges towards as it approaches the middle. For the most part, the film quickly steers back to the anguish surrounding each character every time it threatens to lose it’s flair, keeping the quality consistent throughout Felony right up until the mildly surprising twist flips the script and the movie ends on a less thrilling note.
Physical performances are grand here, and all three male leads put on brilliant performances in that respect. Wilkinson’s impatience and irreverence towards the rule of law shows on every scowl and grimace he makes during the less interesting drug angle that serves as a side arc. Courtney’s initial passivity and eventual assertiveness flow fluidly from his expressions as he gets closer and closer towards Mal’s truth. But it’s Edgerton who remains the finest performer here, constantly demonstrating a state of serious perplexity and regret while the man who he was before the accident and the man who he becomes after the accident are clearly distinguished through his pensive, nervous interactions to everyone around him.
While the movie may have not succeeded in all scenes – especially where the side arc of the drug bust is concerned – it’s the acting and direction of Felony which have it as one very fine, affecting piece of art.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Felony is screening in cinemas nationally as of today, 28th August.