This may not be the brightest thriller in the cinema, but it's made with such a ripping sense of energy that it's thoroughly entertaining. With his first feature, Australian filmmaker Julius Avery packs the screen with intense characters, raucous set-pieces and suggestions of all kinds of metaphorical meaning. He also assembles a terrific cast of actors willing to chomp merrily on the scenery. So even if the movie never actually cracks the surface, it's a true guilty pleasure.
Set in Western Australia, the film centres on 19-year-old JR (Brenton Thwaites), who begins a six-month stint in prison with a determination to rise to the top. His bravado nearly gets him killed, but he boldly aligns himself with notorious criminal Brendan (Ewan McGregor), and in exchange for protection inside JR agrees to help Brendan from the outside. Sure enough, in six months Brendan launches an audacious prison break, after which he and Brendan get to work with dodgy mobster Sam (Jacek Koman) on an even more elaborate gold heist. JR is loving the gangster lifestyle but still refuses to follow the rules, which puts him on a collision course with Sam as he openly flirts with Sam's prized moll Tasha (Alicia Vikander). Now JR thinks he can steal Tasha, ditch Brendan and get away with the gold. As if.
Yes, the film is a web of double-crosses and betrayals, none of which is much of a surprise. All of the final act's twists and turns are loudly announced early on, as are the strained metaphors of chess-playing criminals and father-son mentoring. Avery's script and direction constantly suggest that nothing is what it seems, although it's hard not to see what's really going on. But what's on-screen is so much fun that we don't mind at all. Thwaites, McGregor, Vikander and Koman all have a great time playing with our expectations. Each character is cocky and sure that they're in control, when it's clear that they're not. And the sparks between them make each scene sizzle.
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