In a particularly heated exchange between Joel Edgerton’s Malcolm Toohey (Mal) and Tom Wilkinson’s Detective Carl Summer (Carl) one of the defining lines of Felony occurs. Carl says, “the world swallows events.” Director Matthew Saville (Noise, Cloudstreet, Please Like Me, We Can Be Heroes) and writer/star Joel Edgerton hurtle you into a morality tale where right and wrong mutate from opposing shades into a snarled bramble.
Mal (Edgerton) is a detective celebrating with his task force after a successful raid that not only busted their case wide open but also one that he took a bullet, to the Kevlar vest, but a bullet nonetheless. On his way home he clips a young boy riding on his bike and in the ensuing panic, alcohol affected judgement and the ‘protection’ of Carl (Wilkinson) who happens upon the scene, he fabricates a story that someone else was responsible. Detective Jim Melic (Jai Courtney) is Carl’s young partner, who senses that something’s up when he encounters the boy’s grieving single mother Ankhila Sarduka (Sarah Roberts) and sets out for justice.
Saville’s aesthetic of Felony is one of pursuit. Whether it’s Mal chasing down suspects through a factory, or driving all over Sydney there’s a sense that the players are cutting off the ring from their opponents and lining up confrontations. In the exchanges (while there are some physical tussles) it’s about actors duking it out. Edgerton’s script is written for performers to grapple with and imbalance their counterparts. The flurries get bigger as the stakes and the momentum builds to the climax. Saville and Edgerton make choices in locations, transportation and lifestyle that infer the generational and class make-up of Australia, without ever making it overt.
Across the boards it’s a terrific selection of performers and performances. Forget the terrible A Good Day to Die Hard or I, Frankenstein, I’m considering this the official show reel for Jai Courtney. Jim is filled with ambition but also a stubborn, intense sense of what’s right and wrong. He’s got those steely blue eyes that shine like flood lights on the situation. He’s got an unmistakable powerful presence even in silence. Other than one glaring decision that torpedoed the emotional maturity of the character, he shines brighter than in any other film to date.
Wilkinson is a sensation. He’s aware of life on the force and has an evolved sense of what’s wrong and right after decades seeing the worst aspects of humanity. You can’t help but read the hard life in the topography of his face during his dialogue. He’s verbose, distorted even but it’s not as simple as him being an old dirty cop, Edgerton’s script and the gravitas Wilkinson brings to the character makes for an engaging ambivalence. And other than Benedict Cumberbatch’s superb mastery of the Australian accent in The Fifth Estate, Wilkinson is able to shift into our under-pronounced drawl with marvellous accuracy.
Edgerton’s Mal is insular. He’s having trouble keeping his emotions in check faced with increasingly heinous and dangerous parts of the job. As Edgerton retreats inward into Mal, his talent and versatility becomes more pronounced. He’s ineloquent, strained in social situations and out of sorts without a cold beer in his hands. He feels almost out of time, emotionally ill-equipped 70s hard man with an iPhone. One only has to look at how Edgerton contrasts the character against Julie. Melissa (somebody please mop up my drooling) George pays Julie, Mal’s wife, a nurse by profession who doesn’t seem to shy away from the bad elements of Mal’s job. She’s warm, beautiful and yet Mal keeps her in a strange orbit. When she’s faced with the reality of the situation she too must contend with decency for the sake of the future of her two young sons.
Felony isn’t interest in asteroidal impact, its focus is the butterfly wings that flap and whip up a hurricane; Edgerton, Courtney, George, Wilkinson and Roberts are the collateral damage.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Matthew Saville
Written by: Joel Edgerton
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Jai Courtney, Melissa George, Tom Wilkinson, Sarah Roberts
Joel Edgerton … Malcolm Toohey
Jai Courtney … Jim Melic
Melissa George … Julie Toohey
Tom Wilkinson … Detective Carl Summer
Sarah Roberts … Ankhila Sarduka