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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Son of a Gun movie review: wholesale cinematic heist

Son of a Gun red light

Misogynistic, predictable, crammed with tonal shifts, and devoid of likable characters. Another young filmmaker has taken all the wrong cues from Hollywood.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It’s like Starred Up — the harrowing British film about a teenager sent to adult prison before he’s legally old enough for it — except here landing in an adult prison turns out to be a good career and personal move for a young man. It all starts out intense and harrowing, as young JR (Brenton Thwaites: The Giver) finds himself among hardened violent felons while serving a few months on an unspecified but obviously minor offense; let’s just say that regular rape shouldn’t be part of any criminal punishment. Soon, he is helping vaguely legendary criminal Brendan (Ewan McGregor: Mortdecai) escape and joining him on an audacious gold heist of a mine in the Outback for gangster Sam (Jacek Koman: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance), and the film morphs from prison drama to action thriller comedy… sort of. Son of a Gun can’t really seem to decide what sort of movie it is, beyond how it seems to think whatever bits of crap and cliché it can steal from every other buddy action comedy heist thriller prison drama ever made, the better. Toss in some gun porn, random strip-club boobage, a tough but vulnerable mobster moll in need of rescue (Alicia Vikander: Ex Machina), a couple of “unlikely” disguises, a strained pseudointellectual metaphor about JR’s plight, and there is nothing — literally nothing — here you haven’t seen before, and done better. Gun is too long, misogynistic, predictable, crammed with bizarre tonal shifts, and devoid of a single likable character. I blame Hollywood, for making it look cool to make the same movie over and over again, and offer this advice to young filmmakers, including Australian Julius Avery, whose first feature this is: If you think your idea for a movie seems totally awesome because a shit-ton of other movies have done it all before, come up with another idea.

first viewed during the 58th BFI London Film Festival


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Son of a Gun for its representation of girls and women.


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Son of a Gun (2015)
US/Can release: Jan 16 2015
UK/Ire release: Jan 30 2015

MPAA: rated R for violence, language throughout, some sexuality, nudity and drug use
BBFC: rated 15 (very strong language, strong bloody violence, sex, drug use)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Whysoglum

    I think it’s unfair to say that there is nothing original in the film at all… Name another film with a gold mine heist or an Australian film actually shot in Australia for such a tiny budget that has done that kind of action before… there isn’t any… so you’re wrong… the director took some big risks here and I think it’s a bold debut but then I like action and all it’s genre convention and cliches.

  • Danielm80

    Please, please look up “original” in a dictionary. It means exactly the opposite of the examples you’re using. Filming on location is pretty routine, and so are heist movies and quests for gold.

  • What big risks did the director take?

    You’re part of the problem, if you genuinely believe that action movies *must* be conventional and clichéd. Are you really so easily satisfied? Wouldn’t you like to be a little bit surprised by a movie once in a while?

  • RogerBW

    I guess Avery saved the cat. Working in microbudget is supposed to offer the possibility of doing something a bit less mainstream, but I suppose it’s only a possibility.

  • relinquis .

    I’m not trying to be clever, but how is the film misogynistic? There were a couple of characters who were misogynistic towards Tasha, but the film portrays her to be opposite of what these characters think of her.

  • There’s an entire post discussing this, and it’s linked right at the bottom of the review. That’d be a good place to start.

    http://www.flickfilosopher.com/2015/01/women-son-gun.html

  • relinquis .

    Thank you for pointing out the link. I hadn’t noticed it as I’ve never been to your site before and I’m not familiar with the layout.

    I’ve read through most of that post, but it seems to lack context and to miss the point that the director is clearly trying to make about subjugation of the young and weak by the old and powerful. For example, in one section you give minus “points” for the male gaze in showing scantily clad women, but neglect that the same is done for the beautiful male protagonist. He is lensed sensually, usually topless, once nude, throughout the first two thirds of the film.

    Also, in terms of the characters having a conversation about Tasha being there to “look” good and “owned” by another man, again, this is more than just mirrored in the first third of the film, the prison scenes where the younger, prettier, physically weaker men are subjugated and actually raped by cliques of older men and find themselves as either sexual “prizes” or compelled into service in exchange for protection.

    it is clear from the story that this theme of being owned or indebted is an obstacle to both JR and Tasha from achieving happiness as well as an obstacle to their relationship together. Rather than being emptily satirical, or simply rhetorically critical of it, the issue is a main part of the story and turns the film from a simple heist story to one where young people are trying to live together on their own terms with their morality intact.

    A portrayal is not an endorsement. The film has to portray the acts and ideas of misogyny and dominance of the old/powerful over the young/weak in order to show the characters resist and subvert these concepts.

    Far from being misogynist, that Tasha & JR’s relationship succeeds is a triumph of their mutual respect for one another and stubbornly held morals and personal convictions over the misogyny, cynicism and pragmatism of the other more jaded “realist” characters. This is a key theme of the film and in many ways the central point. Even the last shot Brenda (McGregor’s character) sees the light, both metaphorically and literally before the film fades to black.

    At least that’s what I got out of it. Then again, I remember being young man, not long ago, in love trying to live on our own terms against a cynical “realist” system.

    Thanks again for the reply and I hope you find my take useful even if you don’t agree. I apologise for the long post. I got a bit carried away. You have an interesting blog.

  • For example, in one section you give minus “points” for the male gaze in showing scantily clad women, but neglect that the same is done for the beautiful male protagonist.

    Because the same thing is NOT done for the male protagonist! No number of shirtless scenes — and the few here do NOT appear to acknowledge the possibility of a female gaze — can make up for the fact that men are not objectified in our culture like women are.

    There are also no random anonymous male objects walking around with their dicks flopping in the breeze, which is how female nudity is treated here.

    As I’ve said before when this topic comes up — as it does so very often — engaging in the objectification of women is NOT a reasonable way to critique it… or, at least, nothing that has ever been offered to me as an example of such works in that way.

    The topic of male prison rape has absolutely nothing to do with how women are objectified in this film. It’s possible that it doesn’t even register for you because it is so normalized on film.

  • relinquis .

    I’ve read Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema. I’ve aware of the concept of the male gaze and such. I’m not ignorant of the topic. It does register, in many films, but I don’t think it applies here.

    I agree that the film doesn’t have a female gaze, it is called Son (not daughter) of a Gun after all, but does that necessarily make it misogynistic?

    My point is that in this work of art, the young are objectified, in a necessary way, in order to deal with the main theme of the film. The inter-generational conflict between the earnest/moral young and the realist/cynical old and the protagonists search of agency. The portrayal of Tasha’s objectification is part of this. Let’s focus on that.

    However, consider how the film deals with such female objectification in comparison to Brian De Plama’s gangester classic Scarface. In Scarface we have, mainly, two objectified women. Elvira, who never achieves any agency and is always a trophy and Gina, who has a victim narrative and has a momentary attempt at revenge at the end. In comparison, the Tasha character in Son of a Gun is never just a victim and is never just a trophy. She defies the rules of her objectification by taking JR out to dinner after saving his life and seeks her agency by finally overcoming her cynicism when she joins JR’s plot to free themselves.

    Again, i go back to the fact that a depiction is not an endorsement. All of the objectification in the film is in service of the theme of seeking agency and, furthermore, is true to the real world of organised crime. I’ve been around politicians, bankers and other gangsters. The objectification of women, and youth, in this world is actually very real and not just a media construct. It reminds me of the modern classic Margin Call, which also touches on the exploitation of the young and earnest by the old and cynical. JR reminds me of the Seth character in that ensamble. Although Seth never achieves such agency.

    As you can see, I am quite passionate about this film, because i think it captures the zeitgeist of the post-crash, post-empire* youth in a way that mainstream cinema is not even aware of. This is a very important work of art. The inter-genrational clash is so ignored by mainstream (and indie) film that for most film critics, it simply does not register.

    Thanks again, I’ve really enjoyed this exchange despite our disagreement. I hope my perspective is clear to you at least. English isn’t my first language.

    * I use empire and post-empire in the Bret Easton Ellis meaning of the word.

  • I agree that the film doesn’t have a female gaze, it is called Son (not daughter) of a Gun after all, but does that necessarily make it misogynistic?

    No, it doesn’t. But just merely having a shirtless guy doesn’t make it not-misogynist, either.

    The portrayal of Tasha’s objectification is part of this.

    My objections are not just about Tasha. But I’m really tired of this argument that “We had to objectify the women to criticize female objectification.” Bullshit. It sounds a lot like “We had to burn the village to save the village.”

    consider how the film deals with such female objectification in comparison to Brian De Plama’s gangester classic Scarface.

    Why? Just because other films are worse does not excuse this one.

  • relinquis .

    so, you would rather film didn’t portray this part of the crime world at all, because it objectifies women?

    how else is a work of art supposed to stay artistically true to this world, but not depict this part of it? Wouldn’t that be white-washing the reality?

  • A film can depict misogyny without being misogynistic itself. For starters, this movie could get rid of the random naked breasts all over the film.

  • RogerBW

    Films seem to manage to depict racism all the time without making it seem glamorous and fun. Why do they have so much trouble doing the same to misogyny?

  • chad kern

    Another brainwashed feminist crying about how bad women have it in a society where men have zero rights.

    What’s next MaryAnn, white privilege?

  • You’re getting a spot on the next version of the film review comment bingo card.

  • Danielm80

    Which will be ten pages long.

  • chad kern

    It is wise of you not to try and debate me on the subject. Because you WILL lose.

  • You’re *adorable.*

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Oooooohhh, sick burn, brah.

    How about we just laugh at you instead. Cause we are.

    LOL

  • chad kern

    Thanks Sunshine.

  • SaltHarvest

    Is that why you felt the need to raise the volume on the letters W… I… L… L…? You’re that assured of your victory? *cackle*

    Maybe you could try capitalizing the entire comment, or adding exclamation marks? Maybe some profanity? *chortle*

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