There are some instances in life where an honest and forthright person will have a massive error of judgement. It will (and definitely has) happened to all of us. Some of us will try to run from our mistakes. Some of us will pretend they never happened and the brave few will admirably face the consequences of our actions. I wonder which category I fit in.
Felony is an Australian crime thriller by Matthew Saville (Noise) and the director goes all out in ensuring the bad-co-good-cop formula is out of the window. An interesting film small on kinetic thrills but big on moral issues, Felony is penned, produced and starring Joel Edgerton (Zero Dark Thirty, Great Gatbsy). Felony oozes subtlety and intelligent, with director Saville providing a steady, deft touch to the direction. He ensures that we focus on the moral questions, completely disregarding the idea of heroes and villains, very David O.Russell-esque. Only without the fanfare and all the seriousness.
We open up with a chase scene (as you do when making a police movie) with our valiant policeman Malcolm ‘Mal’ Toohey chasing a suspect in a drug raid. A well photographed scene has us zipping through a drug house (I think) and Mal closing on his prey. Until he takes a bullet in the gullet, that is (tears). Thankfully he has a safety vest on (cheers!) and the suspect gets taken down and he’s treated as a hero. Perfect, right?
His colleagues throw him in a drinking session in the local bar and he celebrates in kind with a drink. And another. And another. He’s not entirely smashed by the end of it, but he’s certainly over the driving limit. But he decides to try his luck driving home, considering it’s four in the AM and no one should be on the roads. But of course someone is. A kid on a bike is up ahead and Mal gently veers to the right to make sure he misses but he’s misjudged the distance. The boy’s been clipped and he’s out cold. Mal does the right thing and calls an ambulance. The operator asks him what happened.
The skill in this scene is how innocuous everything. It feels like Mal is just coasting along and everything’s fine and even the contact with the boy seems like a bump. But now what does Mal do? Does he come clean or deny any involvement? We would all love to say we would do the honourable thing, but it’s easy to say that when you’re not immediate to the circumstance at hand. Corrupt cop Carl Summer (Tom Wilkinson) and straight-laced Jim Mellic (Jai Courtney) arrive to the scene to sort things out. Wilkinson excels in a ragged, almost deranged persona. You can feel the unease rising in Mellic, especially when Carl dismisses and abruptly sends Mal on his way.
This movie does well to ask questions that have no simple explanations. Mal isn’t a bad person; he just made a severe error of judgement. But his denial creates a web of lies that starts to run deeper and deeper. The boy’s condition deteriorates. Mellic starts to ask questions but his attraction to the boy’s mother (Sarah Roberts) extends the scope of all the moral ambiguity unfolding before us. Meanwhile Carl is not only desperate to keep his part in the cover up quiet but obsesses over a suspect in a rape case and questions the system itself he’s the accused is released on bail. This subplot offers an interesting irony in how an honest policeman should turn himself in with while a suspected rapist has the legal right to walk free. It’s these layers which add to the story and all of its tension.
Elements such as the editing and cinematography deserve praise as well. Geoff Hitchin’s editing style isn’t new or spectacular but it keeps things ticking along effortlessly. Mark Wareham’s gone for a blue filter to emphasize the police component in the film. I looked up blue in the Australian dictionary and it connotes loyalty, truthfulness and constancy and faithfulness. But it also connotes melancholy and being heavy-hearted. Maybe I’m going too deep with it but perhaps it add another layer to the ambiguity?
Felony is an intellectual treat for anyone who wants a crime drama that focuses on the moral dilemmas police have to face and reminds the viewer of the true cost when it comes the responsibility of staying above reproach becomes too much. The film’s ending does imply an unforeseen conclusion I think, but it does signal the end of the psychological suffering caused by the main characters. A low key ending for a low key film.
‘Felony’ is released October 27th via Solo Media