The (Other, Other) iTunes $0.99 Movie of the Week: ‘Son of a Gun’

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Every week, the folks at iTunes find a movie they like and make it available to rent for the low, low price of $0.99. I’m here to tell you whether that film is worth your hard-earned dollar.

iTunes is testing my resolve this week. The featured $0.99 movie is Bridget Jones’ Baby. The (Other) $0.99 option is Mechanic: Resurrection. How does one chose between two egregiously unnecessary options, you ask? Well, I didn’t. That makes this the perfect week to clue you into a new feature over at the iTunes movie store … the ‘Movies You Might Have Missed’ section. That’s right, the iTunes team now have an entire section of their store dedicated to classic, little seen, or overlooked features. You can rent them for just $0.99 as well. And there’s intriguing options for even the most discerning of cineastes. Even me. So …

This week, Ewan McGregor searches for honor amongst thieves in the Aussie heist drama Son of a Gun.

Is This Your First Time?

Heading to prison for a minor offense, JR (Brenton Thwaites) is about to learn first hand that there’s no such thing as ‘easy time’. Even minor players need protection on the inside. Lucky for JR, a hardened bank robber named Brendan (McGregor) takes a liking to him. But protection comes at a cost. And Brendan has big plans for his burgeoning protegé once they’re on the outside. Plans that involve Russian gangsters, a mail-order concubine (Alicia Vikander), and a really big score that’ll get everyone involved out of the crime game for good. The twisty but predictable heist tale that follows is Son of a Gun.


What If It All Doesn’t Go According To Plan?

I know, that plot synopsis makes Son of a Gun sound like a kitchen-sink styled heist tale. It is. Son of a Gun essentially combines key elements from every single crime film ever made. You’ll find traces of The Killing (1956), Heat (1995), Starred Up (2013), and a dozen other heist flicks throughout Julius Avery’s film. While that makes Son of a Gun a hell of an ambitious debut for the first-time writer/director, it also makes for a patently disappointing one.

My own expectations for the film may have a lot to do with that. I’ve been a big fan of Avery’s since first eyeing his Cannes winning short film Jerrycan (2008) a few years back. Jerrycan unfurled with such a controlled confidence that I couldn’t wait to see what Avery’d do given a big budget and A-list talent. But expectations are often tricky. Though the gritty, hyper-realistic energy that made Jerrycan so engaging is well on display throughout Son of  Gun, the film misses by a wide margin on both story and character.   

Avery’s narrative approach to the film is part of the problem. Son of a Gun is essentially a thriller in three parts. The first segment is an edgy prison drama. The second, a balls-out action flick complete with shootouts and car chases. The third is a post-heist thriller with the requisite double and triple crossing. Each segment arrives with its own particular charms. The prison drama carries a static immediacy that draws you in. The heist itself is staged with remarkable precision, giving the middle section an edge-of-your-seat energy. Even the absurd post-heist double-crossing might have been a lot of fun to watch, given time to develop. But Avery’s too eager to get from one segment to the next. He rushes through each at a near breathless pace.

While each might make for intriguing cinema in its own right, Avery paces intrigue out of the equation. Ultimately, each segment feels slight. And each feels like it’s part of a separate film. The lack of narrative cohesion doesn’t leave much room for error with the film’s cast either. Avery doesn’t do his A-list crew many favors with his screenplay. After a promising opening – the prison scenes are powerful in their hushed intensity – Son of a Gun devolves into a mess of shoddy plotting and comical dialogue. Every relationship is trite, every dramatic moment is stagnant and every twist as boring as it is predictable.

The shame of it is that Avery wastes the talents of an impressive cast in the process. McGregor in particular goes all in with Brendan’s insular intensity. But Avery does little with that intensity. He does even less with the rest of the cast. Vikander’s talent is egregiously wasted on a role that gives her nothing to do but stand around in short skirts and speak in a ridiculous Russian accent. Still, Son of a Gun is not a complete waste of time. Nigel Buck lenses the West Australian landscapes with a naturalism that makes the story feel at once grandiose and intimate. And Jed Kurzel builds on the film’s underplayed tensions with an original score that’s both muted and electrifying.

Those contrasts should’ve made Son of a Gun something special … that rarest of heist flick that actually has an engrossing human story to go with it. In the end, we only see flashes of both. And nothing in between gives them any meaning.


Worth It?

Let’s put it this way, Son of a Gun is poorly paced and predictable and downright silly at times. But I can say beyond a reasonable doubt that it’s a more worthy investment than either Bridget Jones’ Baby or pretty much any movie starring Jason Statham … including Mechanic: Resurrection. That doesn’t mean it’s worth a buck, though. I would recommend this one only for die-hard fans of b-grade heist flicks. That’s ok. ‘Cause Pedro Almodovar’s ENTIRE filmography is also available in the ‘Movies You Might Have Missed’ section this week. Honestly, you’d do better spending your dollar on any one of Almodovar’s films. Particularly Talk to Her (2002), which is one of my all-time favorites.

And if you wanna check out Julius Avery’s dynamic short film Jerrycan, click right here. Enjoy!

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