A generic but not altogether unejoyable crime movie, the wonderfully named Son of a Gun combines elements of a prison break movie and a double-crossing heist movie into one package. Somehow, that doesn’t make it good, and the lack of anything other than stereotypical and shallow characters keeps it from doing a whole lot that’ll involve the audience, but the plot in and of itself is good enough to keep us entertained for most of its running time.
Our lead is J.R. (Brenton Thwaites), which stands for something but it doesn’t matter. He finds himself in prison for a crime that goes unmentioned, and because he’s a smaller man, soon finds himself the target for, well, the larger men. A man named Brendan (Ewan McGregor) decides to protect him, but with a price: When J.R. gets free in six months, he’ll break Brendan out of prison when the time is right. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happens. Brendan was put away for armed robbery, and seemingly days after getting free finds himself planning another heist. Then there are plot twists, character flips, a girl (Alicia Vikander), and you probably know how this all plays out.
All of this is moderately exciting simply because heists are inherently thrilling. The double-crosses, character turns, and so on are fun. The actual heist is kind of mediocre, but most of the film follows the aftermath, anyway. It’s about J.R. and Brendan figuring out if they can trust one another, whether or not J.R. will pick the girl over Brendan, and whether or not everyone will get away scot-free.
It might be more compelling if the characters had any depth to them. Brendan is cool because he’s played by Ewan McGregor and because other characters tell us he’s cool. J.R. is out of his element and in love because he’s young and he’s partnered with a girl. The girl, whose name is Tasha but that’s ultimately irrelevant, acts as a plot device and a way to try to make it seem like J.R. is in love, which happens immediately and isn’t at all believable — in part because we know almost nothing about him.
So it’s not a film about the characters. The plot works in spite of this, as these types of movies are inherently at least somewhat fun. There are some slow moments that hurt the pace, a couple of scenes that feel repetitive, and without good characters it’s really difficult to care about anything that’s happening. It’s thrilling because crime is thrilling, but that’s about all it has going for it. Still, it is possible to make this type of material dull, and at the very least Son of a Gun isn’t dull.
Without having strong characters, it’s hard to ask the actors to do a whole lot other than exist and not be terrible. They accomplish this task. Ewan McGregor exudes cool and swears a lot. Brenton Thwaites sometimes looks (intentionally) lost and also swears a lot. Alicia Vikander is “the girl” and doesn’t swear a lot. The amount of profanity they use is the most interesting thing about them. There are supporting cast members who come and go and sometimes betray our two male leads, but are ultimately not particularly memorable.
The film is stylishly bland and visually uninteresting, although given that it marks the directorial debut of Julius Avery — who also wrote the script — that’s understandable. Either play it safe or go all-out, and he chose the former. Outside of its Australian setting — which isn’t really used for anything special — it looks and acts just like most other heist movies you’ve seen. It’s fine, it’s serviceable, but you’ll forget about it by the time the credits finish rolling.
Son of a Gun is wonderfully named but ultimately a very conventional, generic, and safe crime movie. It has a brief prison break sequence, but it’s mostly about the aftermath of a heist and the double-crossing that inevitably occurs. It’s fun because it’s crime, and crime is inherently thrilling, but thanks to its generic plot and characters that are barely defined, let alone deep, is unmemorable and never reaches any sort of great heights. It’s fun in the moment but you’ll forget about it almost instantly.