Joel Edgerton is making quite an impact in the Australian film scene. He was unforgettable in the role of troubled crook Baz in the Australian crime drama Animal Kingdom back in 2010. He then turned to a “Baz” of another kind – this time Baz Luhrmann – to star in his hugely successful The Great Gatsby alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, as the bullish Tom Buchanan. The 40 year-old actor’s latest Aussie flick, Felony (which he wrote, produced and starred in), is a gripping insight into the repercussions of an officer’s deadly alliance with the other side of the law.
Debuting at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) late last year, the film sees Edgerton play Malcolm Toohey, a decorated detective and family man. He hits the town for a boozy, celebratory night out with his pals to commemorate a successful drug bust, and on his drunken drive home clips a young paperboy – who in turn is left fighting for his life. Worse still, Toohey doesn’t confess to the crime, but pretends he found the boy instead. It’s the first of a long list of lies that threaten to undermine his position, and by effect, the credibility of the entire force.
Director Matthew Saville‘s (The Secret Life of Us, Please Like Me) intimate, brooding world channels the tone and focus of 2013’s A Place Beyond The Pines, with two central colliding forces investigating the same case, both with opposing motives. Cover-ups are rife, and if Toohey chooses to give himself up, the domino effect could be catastrophic for the NSW police department.
Aussie action star Jai Courtney (A Good Day to Die Hard, Divergent) plays Jim Melic, a thorough, young detective who smells a rat from the get-go. The rookie is thrown in alongside a formidable Tom Wilkinson (Belle, The Grand Budapest Hotel) as veteran, bent detective Carl Summer, who doesn’t like anyone questioning his authority. Put the three together and you’ve got serious police pandemonium.
There are three main perspectives to Felony. There’s the man who hit the kid (Toohey), the man whose covering up for him (Summer), and the man who’s threatening to expose them both (Melic). Morally, the film is complex; with all parties at one stage or another becoming compromised. Toohey, by the initial mistake and budding guilt; Melic by his feelings towards the victim’s mother, Ankhlia, and Summer by his unlawful allegiance to Toohey and the force’s reputation.
The film has even switches between dizzy, hand-held shots of unfolding crime busts, to lingering stills and close-ups through slick, effortless editing. The camera appears to be doubling as the leads’ overwhelming sub-conscious; snaking back and forward between conflicting expressions of pride and guilt and power.
Every drawn-out, procedural scene is bookended by the banality of life – kids parties, marital stress and domesticity – heightening what is at stake beyond the career. Returning to ongoing police cases throughout (such as the drug bust and a pedophile hunt) shows the cops in a fairer light; a heroic one even; to counteract the corruption and deceptions as they escalate in the climax.
Whether it’s the balanced see-sawing between Toohey’s good and bad traits, or just Edgerton’s endearing screen persona, you can’t help but be moved by his festering guilt. With a strong supporting cast to flesh out the predicament, (Melissa George as worried wife Julie, and Sarah Roberts as mother in mourning Ankhlia Sarduka), the film’s edgy realism is explored effortlessly through solid acting and believable plot developments. There’s just the right amount of Aussie humour to lighten the foreboding mood, and a tense, fluid score by Saville’s wife Bryony Marks to round out production.
Overall, Felony is a fine piece of modern Australian drama, with a central conflict that sometimes strikes just a little bit too close to home.